Robin Stanbridge Photography: Blog en-us (C) Robin Stanbridge Photography (Robin Stanbridge Photography) Fri, 03 Jul 2020 15:04:00 GMT Fri, 03 Jul 2020 15:04:00 GMT Robin Stanbridge Photography: Blog 120 80 Tawney Owls, New Garden setup, Lockdown Rules, Landscape photo and Reptiles on Dartmoor Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon, England 

I hope you are all safe and well, and bearing up with what is going on with all this Covid 19 business.

In the last Wildlife Photography blog I told you about an incident that happened whilst I was driving home which involved a Tawney Owl. ( This is not the first time this type of thing has happened to me. Quite a few years ago when I lived in Hampshire I was driving to work. The time was about 5am, I started work at 5:45am, and I was driving up hill when a Tawney Owl flew out of a wood on my right and “landed” on the bonnet of my car, I did not hit it, it just dropped onto my car! I immediately stopped; luckily I was driving slowly keeping a watch out for wildlife as I quite often saw either a Fox or Fallow Deer along this road. As I stopped the Tawney Owl slid forward and onto the road in front. I got out of the car and the Owl was standing on its feet but looked a bit wobbly. It was quite a small owl so I picked it up, keeping its talons out of harm’s way, walked to the side of the road and placed it there. I stood there watching it for a few minutes and it did not appear to be acting normally. Therefore I picked it up again and placed it in a large box in the boot of my car. I continued my drive to work and informed my boss what happened. After 9am I took the Owl to the Hawk Conservancy Trust at Weyhill just outside Andover ( not far from where I worked. I told them what had happened and they gave the Owl a quick check over, all appeared to be OK, but they said they would keep it in for a couple of weeks just to make sure. Three weeks later a received a phone call from them stating that the Tawney Owl had been a bit underweight but is now fine and I could collect it so that it could be released near where the incident happened. That afternoon I picked it up and took it to a Forestry Commission wood which was at the top of the hill near where I had found it. I walked down a track, away from the road, and placed the box on the ground. I opened the top, stood back and after a couple of seconds out flew the Owl. It flew down the track a little bit and then up into a tree and it did look bigger than when I first saw it. It stayed there for a few minutes before flying into the wood. I can tell you there is no better feeling then seeing wildlife, which was “injured” recovering and being reintroduced into its natural home. I can fully understand what the people that work in animal / wildlife rehabilitation centres feel like when they care for the animals / wildlife and then let them go when they have got better. Fantastic.

At the beginning of the month I started redoing my Wildlife photography garden setup in our field. Over the winter months most of my hard work setting it up was ruined by the weather, as we had some quite strong winds, therefore I started rebuilding it again. The “stone wall” on my bench had fallen down and my camouflaged background had been ripped to pieces. The background was renewed as I have got lots of bits and pieces of this and it’s very diffused in my images anyway, so you can’t tell what it is. I put up the bird feeders again and will leave it like that so the birds will get used to it before I gradually introduce more to the setup. I visited it in the evening and from a distance I could see two birds on the sunflower hearts. I moved slightly closer and could see that they were a male and female Siskin, a bird I had not seen in my garden before.

Over the next couple of weeks I rebuilt the stone wall on to of our “park bench”. I cleared out the two drain pipes and stuck different branches in them and also covered up the fence in the background.

Just as I am writing this blog the government has changed to Lockdown rules. One of which is that you can go out using your car and go to an area to exercise all day. You can even go to a park, sit there, watch the day go by as long as you stick to the social distancing rules. With this in mind I will now go out onto Dartmoor with my camera and hope people will keep away. Then again there are not many people about on Dartmoor at the time I go out now, 5am.

For the last few weeks I have had an image in my mind that I want to take. Surprisingly this image is not a wildlife image, it is a landscape one. I got my inspiration from a digital magazine I found whilst on the internet. The image was taken not far from my home so I visited and reconnoitered the area and noted several positions where I could take a photo from. I did not want to position the legs of my tripod in the same three holes and take the same photograph as the other photographer has, I wanted the image to be my own. The image I want to take is of a sunset with Dartmoor tors strategically placed within. The sunsets recently have been good but not great. The reason for this is that with constant blue skies, that we have been having recently, there have been no clouds. The colour in the sky is there as the sun goes down but I want pink, red, orange, purple, yellow clouds to enhance the sky. All my camera equipment that I need is ready just to grab and go and I look around the sky each evening, at about 6pm, and wait for some favourable clouds, this is England so they will come. I know true landscape photographers would be out there, all set up, waiting for the light, but this does not appeal to me one bit. Like I’ve said before I can wait for ages for wildlife to appear to photograph it, but get so bored waiting for the light for a landscape shot. That’s why I take my hat off to landscape photographers who make the effort and are out there in all weathers waiting for a break in the clouds (I wish I could have some of these b***** clouds!) to get an image but go home most of the time with nothing. I’ll wait for some clouds at home but knowing my luck the blue skies will turn to grey! “Alert” as I am writing this, on the morning of 02/06/20 I can see clouds so you never know tonight might be the night, keep fingers crossed. (See Below)

Whilst out the other day with Murphy, my little dog, on his mid-day walk a Lizard ran across in front of us from one side of the path to the other. I ran towards it to find out what type it was but it disappeared in amongst the vegetation before I could see it properly. When I got home I did some research and found out that there are only three types of lizard in England, the Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara), the Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) and the Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis). I ruled out the Slow-worm straight away as this is a legless lizard and looks like a snake. I also ruled out a Sand lizard as this is bright green in colour and lives on sandy heathland, the one I saw was brown. Therefore it could only have been a Common lizard. I was quite chuffed as it is the first Common lizard I have seen in England. As I walk early in the morning I’m surprised by not seeing more of them basking in the sunshine to warm up before darting off to catch insects. There are several reptiles on Dartmoor including: - Grass snake (Natrix helvetica), Adder (Vipera berus), Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) and the Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis). All are rare to spot but the only one to beware of is the adder as it’s the UK’s only venomous snake. I have only ever seen one on Dartmoor as they are not as numerous as once was. There are many walkers that despite years of hiking on the moors have never seen one so I was lucky. The snake was all coiled up in the middle of a track basking in the sunlight. I stayed with it for a while watching it and informing people walking along the track, especially those with dogs to put them on leads as a bite from an Adder can be fatal. These snakes are quite shy and tend to emerge only to bask in the sunlight. They like to live in woodland, moorland and heathland, so Dartmoor is the perfect spot for these reptiles. According to “Legendary Dartmoor” they are called “long cripples” and on Dartmoor adders sting not bite! One of the Dartmoor beliefs is that if anything has been bitten by one it cannot recover until the snake is dead and another belief is that an adder can’t die until the sun goes down! If you see one please leave it alone as they are protected by law, The Wildlife and Countryside Act. Read more including several bite / sting cures on the website above.

Continuing on from my attempted landscape photograph there were great clouds until about 5pm and then they seemed to disappear and melded into one great thin grey blanket. I still kept my fingers crossed that it would break up and by 6:30pm there was just a thin band of this blanket. I grabbed my equipment and set off to the car park. I trudged up the tor which took me nearly an hour to get to the top which included a few stops on the way. WHY do you have to walk so far to get good landscape photos? Also how come I don’t notice all the walking when I am after wildlife! At the top I looked around and thought that as it was a bit breezy the cloud line (grey blanket) should move on and the great thin wispy clouds behind it should be in the right position in the sky when the sun sets. So I set up my tripod and camera and sat down to wait for the right time, or decisive moment as Henri Cartier-Bresson would say. (If you want more information use this link or As I sat there waiting the wind died down which made it quite pleasant but it was not going to move the grey blanket. An hour later I was joined by several sheep which I had to chase off as I did not want them in my image and I did not want the hassle of cloning them out of the image. Once I achieved this I returned to my vigil and whilst sat there I was joined by several Wheatears, if only I had brought my telephoto lens with me.


Another hour passed and the grey blanket was now right along the horizon where the sun was going to set. The thin wispy clouds were in the perfect position for my image but there was still no light. Three hours after I had set up my equipment I started packing up. All nature had given me was a very broken thin strip of red glow along the horizon. I walked back to the car contemplating that I hate waiting for the light for landscape photography, then again when the light is right you can get some great results. You’ve got to put the effort in to get good results and this relates to wildlife photography as well so I’ll be back. I put my leather jacket and sunglasses on thinking, where have I heard that phrase before?

Take care and stay safe.


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(Robin Stanbridge Photography) adder Andover birds camera common lizard covid 19 Dartmoor Dartmoor tors decisive moment Devon England fallow deer forestry commission fox government grass snake hampshire hawk conservancy trust henri cartier-bresson landscape photography legendary dartmoor light lizard lockdown photography sand lizard siskin slow-worm tawney owl weyhill wheatears wildlife wildlife and countryside act wildlife photographer wildlife photography Thu, 04 Jun 2020 09:58:44 GMT
Coronavirus Covid 19, Lockdown period, Keeping busy Wildlife Photography wise, Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon, England 

I hope you are all safe and well, and bearing up with what is going on. So, what have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this “Lockdown” period?

I had planned to visit two main areas to photograph wildlife on Dartmoor this year, a third was ready just in case I had to change my plans last minute due to some unforeseen circumstance like the Dartmoor rangers setting fire to one of the areas, which has happened before. I, and I doubt anybody else, could foresee what was going to happen when the coronavirus, covid 19, hit our planet. Therefore I have been catching up with all the jobs that needed doing, and some that didn’t, around the house and garden. My wife writes the list and we do the jobs together, but I can’t understand why the list never seems to end!

Wildlife photography wise I have finished all the post processing of my photos from 2016 and am well into my 2017 photos. As you know I leave the post processing of my photos for a while to get rid of the emotional tie I have with them. Normally it is six months to a year but I hate post processing and have left it a bit longer this time so this lockdown has given me the time to do a few images each day and I am slowly getting through them. I just hope it is over before I get to my 2020 images.

I have made several bird boxes from spare wood in my garage and have put them up in my garden and in our field. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they will be used either this year or next. My garden is not very big, but it is alive with birds, butterflies and other insects. It has a mixture of flowers, bushes, a couple of trees (one dead), a hedge and a host of other plants. OK the “host of other plants” are weeds like brambles, nettles etc. but these are needed and lots of wildlife use and eat them. A lot of gardens these days are too “clean” and void of wildlife so set aside an area in your garden, leave it and let it run riot, then watch the birds and insects flock to it. As the weather has been great on Dartmoor I go out into my garden, sit, watch, listen and learn. We have several nests within it including:- several Goldfinches, two Robins, at least two Blackbirds, a Songthrush, a Sparrow in a House Martins nest but it has now been taken back over by House Martins, a Chiff Chaff, a Willow Warbler, a Great Tit, a Blue Tit, a Dove, a Pigeon and for the first time a Blackcap. I noticed the Blackcap when he landed in the tree above me and started singing his beautiful song. The Chiff Chaff and Willow Warbler are sometimes in the same tree and I still can’t tell the difference between them until they start singing.

Chiff ChaffChiff Chaff

Chiff-Chaff (Dark coloured legs) 


Willow WarblerWillow Warbler

Willow Warbler (Light coloured legs)

We have a Greater Spotted Woodpecker’s nest in a tree just over the road and a Tawney Owl just up the road. We have other birds that visit the garden:- Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Magpies, Goldcrests, we did have two pairs of Bullfinches but they seem to have disappeared, maybe they went to Andy Brown’s ( garden, not far away, who will get some great photos of them on his garden setup. Recently we have had a male Sparrowhawk visit the garden looking for a meal and a Jay looking for a nest to raid. I hope they don’t get any birds from my garden but then again they have got chicks to feed as well.

When I am alone out in the garden there is one Robin and a Dunnock that come really close, well within a metre of me. They look for food or just stand there and sing. It’s a real privilege to watch and listen to them. But when Murphy is out with me then it is a different matter as he seems to think nothing else is allowed in the garden except us, little scamp!

My wife and I were lucky enough to have had some of our holidays before all this lockdown business started. For one of them we had driven up to the Isle of Mull in Scotland in our motorhome, to get my yearly wildlife photography fix in this country and were going to stay for seventeen days before moving on to other parts of the British Isles and then back home but after ten days we heard that the government wanted nobody to travel, a bit late, and we should stay at home. As we were in a field, on our own, in our motorhome and self-sufficient, we debated the issue. But as we were going on to main campsites later on we decided to make a few telephone calls. After the second call it became clear that the campsites were closing down and so we decided to leave and head for home. I can’t complain because at least we had a great few days up there with some very good weather.

Whilst at my favorite loch, I walked along the loch shore several times a day looking for Otters to photograph. The area was void of other humans and the peace and quiet was tremendous. I saw Red Deer, White Tailed Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles, Oystercatchers, Curlew, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, Lapwings and numerous waders but Otters were hard to locate. Eventually, after three days of looking I spotted the telltale signs of one hunting at the water’s edge. I waited until it dived and then I moved closer as I was using my Canon EF100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens which is a fantastic walkabout lens but obviously does not give me the same reach as my EF500mm f4 lens. Then again the EF100-400mm weighs more than 2000g less, that’s two bags of sugar! As I got closer I noticed something strange was happening. The Otter appeared to dive but was up straight away rather than disappearing for about ten to twenty seconds. I stayed put as I thought I had spooked it and it was checking to see what I was doing. But whilst watching the Otter it seemed more occupied with something that was happening further along the shoreline where a group of waders were splashing about at the water’s edge and after a while it resumed its normal hunting. When I was close enough I settled down behind a rock, watched and waited and after a while it came ashore, rubbing itself on the seaweed. It was only a few metres away from me and I struggled to keep my emotions in check as I really love these intimate moments with wildlife. After it had rolled around it climbed onto a rock, dropped off a little “sample”, looked around and then jumped back into the water. It swam out a little and then dived down into the water. This is where I lost it and was perplexed to wonder where it had gone. I know Otters can hold their breath for several minutes underwater but no matter where I looked I could not relocate it; therefore I called it a day and slowly walked back to the motorhome for tea.


Over the next few days the struggle to locate any Otters continued. I found plenty of evidence of their presence in the form of spraints but no actual sightings. It did not deter me looking as there was still plenty of other wildlife around but I wanted Otters as I find these animals absolutely delightful both to watch and to photograph.

The day before we left for home I finally located another Otter and once again I started the routine of getting closer each time it dived. It seemed to be catching a lot of fish just a couple of metres out from the shore in amongst the seaweed. Once I was in position I settled down to get some photographs but this Otter had other plans and started swimming along the shoreline. I waited a while to see if it came back but as it kept on going I started following it. After a few minutes it started hunting again and I closed in. Once again just as I settled down and got comfortable it started swimming along the shoreline, this “cat and mouse” chase game continued for a while but I persevered and was close enough when it stood half in the water and half out of it right next to a big rock. It looked around for a minute or so then swam behind the rock and disappeared. I waited and observed but once again this Otter disappeared like the other one. I even got up and looked behind the rock to see if it was sleeping there but to no avail, so frustrating. For the next few hours I walked up and down the loch again looking for it but to no avail, I would love to know where they go when Otters disappear like this. It’s very frustrating when you are only a few metres from one and they just dive and you miss them resurfacing, never mind there is always next time, hopefully! The next day we headed for home.


A couple of miles from our home, luckily I was driving slowly, then again you can’t do anything else but drive slowly on Devon’s roads with a motorhome, when we had a fantastic encounter. It was warm so our windows were fully open when we heard a commotion in the shape of a lot of squawking and wing flapping on our left. I stopped and immediately a large Tawney Owl flew out of the hedgerow in front of our windscreen followed by two Blackbirds chasing it. The Tawney Owl landed in a tree on the other side of the road with the Blackbirds near it but just out of its reach. I could not see anything in the Tawney Owls talons but I would assume it had either raided the Blackbirds nest or flew close to it and the Blackbirds were chasing it away. After about thirty seconds the Tawney Owl flew off with one of the Blackbirds following it. What made this encounter special was that it was in broad daylight being only about 1pm, which goes to prove that you never know what’s going to happen with nature involved.

Whilst out for my daily exercise, taking Murphy along for his walk, I have noticed that wildlife seems to be less “scared”, because there are less people and traffic about I would think. I know I go out early each day, six in the morning, but I have seen several Hares playing about on the open moor and different birds on the ground letting me get really close, less than a metre away, before they either fly off or just walk away. They are not even bothered with Murphy’s presence. The two main birds doing this are Skylarks and Yellowhammers. I know I can normally get close to Skylarks but Yellowhammers are a different matter. I don’t break the government’s rules by taking my camera with me but if I did all I would have to do is lay on the floor with my camera and 100-400mm lens and the bird would nearly fill my viewfinder. The other thing I have noticed that there seems to be more birds making nests in amongst the gaps in the stone walls. This might be because Dartmoor National Park have cut all the brambles, gorse and other vegetation in the area that I walk. The Skylarks and Meadow Pipits are still nesting on the ground which is a bit precarious as it is very open, but I’ve seen Stonechats, Wrens, Robins, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and several tits using the stone walls as nests. One bird that is back in this area at the moment is a Cuckoo which I have not seen here in four years. I would love to hope things would stay like this when “life” gets back to normal, whatever “normal” will be from now on, but I am a realist and know they won’t. Still it’s great while it lasts.

Take care and stay safe.


If you like my blogs then please sign and leave a comment on my Guestbook page and Subscribe by pressing the RSS button at the bottom left of the page.

Also available are Digital Photography Tuition Including Post Processing Workflow, Dartmoor Bird & Wildlife Workshops and Talks (Please see the Workshops & Talks Tabs at the top of the website).

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(Robin Stanbridge Photography) bird boxes Blackcap British Isles Chiff Chaff Coronavirus Covid 19 Dartmoor Dartmoor National Park Dartmoor rangers Devon England facebook Isle of Mull Lockdown Lockdown period motorhome Otter Otters photograph Photographer post processing Scotland Wildlife wildlife on Dartmoor Wildlife Photographer Sat, 09 May 2020 10:51:08 GMT
Time, Talks, Trials of Photographing Cuckoos and Wildlife Photography Subjects for 2020 Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon, England

Christmas is fast approaching and not long behind it is the New Year. Oh my goodness, doesn’t time fly, does it seem to speed up the older we get or is that just me? I remember when I was at school and we used to get six weeks off in July and August. I would go on holiday and do everything I wanted to do and still have four weeks left! Then I started work and time, during the week, really dragged but the weekend time flew by. The sad thing about this is that I couldn’t wait for the weekend and I was wishing my life away. I then started shift work and once again I was wishing the work days were over so I could enjoy my “rest” days. This continued throughout my working life and I was longing for retirement. Now I am retired days seem to go by in a flash and there are never enough hours in a day to do what I want to do. Maybe we should change all this and “retire” when we are young and work when we are older, what do you think? Our politicians say we are living longer so if we start work at 50 according to them they should get 50 years out of us, instead of 40! We would also get our pension before we paid into it so that's a non starter! I bet you’re thinking why am I talking about this. Well a few months ago I informed you of a talk I was asked to do for a camera club president’s night. I was asked by the president of the club out of the blue. He viewed my website, liked my work and asked if I would give a talk. I was chuffed to be asked so I adjusted and updated a previous talk I gave a few years ago to another club. I got more nervous as the date got nearer but that has passed and it is now over two weeks since I gave that talk. It was well received and I had several people come up to me afterwards telling me that they really enjoyed it and I put the information across well. I was even asked by a person if the talk could be adjusted, some of the photography information taken out, to give the talk to a nature group which it could very easily. The talk was titled “The Needs of a Wildlife Photographer” and it is about what I think a wildlife photographer needs to have and do to carry out his or her wildlife photography and get good wildlife images. I have already started working on another talk titled “Dartmoor Wildlife” and it should be ready, hopefully, by the middle of next year. I say “hopefully” because I need some more images for the talk and this will be time and weather permitting. If you are interested in hiring me for a talk then please click on the “Talks Tab” at the top of my website for more information.

About three years ago I located a cuckoo on a certain part of the moor and I started formulating a plan to get a good image of it. For the first year I studied its movements and noticed that it consistently landed on top of a certain large bush. The bush was tall but not as tall as the trees it lands in and I would get a reasonable image of it. I therefore waited until it had migrated back to Africa and then started working out where I could place my photography hide to get the image. This necessitated in me pruning a gorse bush so my hide could be hidden. I waited until the month before the cuckoo returned to prune the gorse bush so that I would not have to do more pruning with the bird around. When the cuckoo returned to the area I placed my hide in position and would sit and wait whilst it was still dark. When it was daylight the cuckoo would consistently land on a single branch of the tall bush, accompanied by either a meadow pipit or a chaffinch harassing it. From my position this single branch was obscured by other branches and they would cover the cuckoo, especially across the eye. After several attempts I decided that I would slightly prune around this branch to give me a clearer view of the bird but this had to be done after the cuckoo had migrated. That September I slightly pruned these branches of the tall bush full of anticipation for the next year. This year the cuckoo returned to the area and I continued my vigil only to be disappointed because the bird did not land on that particular bush. Whether it was a different bird or it did not like my “pruning” I don’t know. The cut branches have now grown a bit and have got lichen on them so I will be back, time permitting, next year still keeping my fingers crossed and hoping to get an image.

Recently there are two jobs that I wanted to do this autumn. The first was to clear the huge fallen half tree / branch on our nature reserve - please read my past blog for more information, so that I could buy some trees from the woodland trust and plant them in the clearing doing my bit to help the environment. I also want to plant some in our field now that we do not have a horse. The second job was to locate and photograph Redwing and Fieldfare to change the images on my Redwing and Fieldfare photography workshop page Locating them was easy as there are a lot about and I know some of the places they frequent. But both the clearing of the half tree / branch and the photography side have been hampered with this consistent dull weather and rain. It is now well over two months I’ve been waiting and I have only cut up and cleared a few logs. The clearing is on a steep incline and without firm footing it is very dangerous especially when using a chainsaw. Even when it is dry it can be dangerous because the “ground” I’m standing on is just made up of loads of old fallen leaves. With one foot standing about a foot higher than the other one it is easy to slip. Don’t even ask about the photography. Time, as usual, is slipping away fast! See, time in involved with everything we do.

As usual I have picked a couple of subjects I would like to photograph next year. The first will be a cuckoo as discussed earlier. The second will be to find a bird that I have not photographed before. Whether it is a rarity or a bird not already in my portfolio like a different warbler or a ring ousel I don't mind. With this in mind I am going to limit myself to two or three areas of Dartmoor and concentrate on the wildlife within these areas. On the odd occasion I will be in other areas as I need some landscape images for my “Dartmoor Wildlife” talk but it will be a case that if the weather and light is the type I want to photograph that particular landscape in, then I will go there, if not then I will go to these other areas. 

Time once again is pressing so I will sign off for this year by wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.

P.S. Let’s hope for some dry weather soon.


If you like my blogs then please sign and leave a comment on my Guestbook page and Subscribe by pressing the RSS button at the bottom left of the page.

Also available are Digital Photography Tuition Including Post Processing Workflow, Dartmoor Bird & Wildlife Photography Workshops and Talks (Please see the Workshops & Talks Tabs at the top of the website).

If you choose to stay at our Holiday Cottage / B&B at the time of the workshop then you will receive a discount on your tuition and accommodation. 



(Robin Stanbridge Photography) africa b&b dartmoor bed & breakfast dartmoor blog camera club christmas cuckoo dartmoor dartmoor bird and wildlife photography workshops dartmoor wildlife devon digital photography tuition england fieldfare good wildlife images holiday cottage landscape landscape photography migrate nature nature group needs of a wildlife photographer new year pension photographer photography photography hide photography workshop post processing workflow president presidents night redwing redwing and fieldfare redwing and fieldfare workshop retire retirement ring ousel speaker talk trees warbler wildlife wildlife images wildlife photographer woodland trust workshop" Mon, 16 Dec 2019 16:44:57 GMT
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and New 1 Day Wildlife Photography Workshops Before I get started this blog is not about the cape wearing Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, it is about wildlife photography, trust me!

The Ugly – A few years ago we used to have two collared doves in our garden. They used to sit on the telephone wire cooing, sitting next to, and cuddling, each other. That was until last year when Mr or Mrs sparrowhawk decided it wanted to eat one of them. All we found was a pile of feathers, a beak and a foot near a bush in the garden. The other dove stayed around the garden and in early spring of this year was joined by a partner. Things were getting on great with each other so they made a nest together in one of our trees and had two siblings. They grew up and we often saw all four of them sitting on the telephone wire with the juveniles demanding food or some other sort of attention. A couple of weeks ago we found another pile of feathers and a beak and one of the juveniles had become breakfast for Mr or Mrs sparrowhawk. The three doves seemed a bit nervous over the next few days and who can blame them! Then at the start of this week I found yet another pile of feathers just after coming back from taking Murphy for his first walk of the day. I don’t know which dove had been killed as I have not seen any of the others since. It’s really sad because they are such beautiful birds but I have always said that if you provide food for birds and encourage them to your garden you are only laying the table for a sparrowhawk.

The Bad – The other day I went out to photograph the red deer on Exmoor. I’ve run a few Red Deer Rut photography workshops this year and I wanted to take some images for myself. When I run a Red Deer Rut photography workshop I do not take my own camera equipment because I feel it is your day to take photographs and not mine. When I do my own photography I do not just want to photograph the red deer stags as the way I look at it, it takes two to tango and I am a wildlife photographer, and I want the whole occasion so I photograph the stags, hinds and the fawns or calf’s or kids depending on what you call them. I heard the presenters on Springwatch / Autumnwatch call them fawns one minute and then calf's the next! After a two hour drive to Exmoor, arriving at 7am, I was not pleased with the weather. It was thick fog, very windy and raining heavily. I don’t mind rain as it masks your scent and deadens any noise you make but I won’t find deer in thick fog and the deer are easily spooked when it is very windy. Still I was there and I was not going to give up, forever the optimist! I got dressed in my wet weather gear, collected my camera equipment and placed it in my backpack and set off. During the day the rain lessened and the fog thinned slightly but the strong wind remained. All day long I walked up hill and down dale all to no avail as the deer were very skittish and were running away even when I was hundreds of metres away from them. It was made even harder because I could not get downwind from the deer as the wind direction kept on changing. At the end of the day, about 4pm, I had to walk back to my car and due to exhaustion I was really struggling getting up the hill even though it was along the road. I was saved when a kind gent stopped in his Landrover Freelander and asked if I wanted a lift up the hill, which I enthusiastically, as much as I could, accepted. So I ended up back at my car, soaking wet inside and out, cold and absolutely knackered all to no avail because I hadn’t taken one photo, in fact I hadn’t even taken my camera out of my backpack! It’s all within the trials and tribulations of being a wildlife photographer.

The Good – A couple of days later I was back up to Exmoor for another try and this time the weather at 7am was broken cloud with sun/blue sky in between with hardly any wind. What wind there was, was bitterly cold but that didn’t bother me as walking would keep me warm and I could always put on more clothes when I stopped walking. I parked in the same place and set off downhill. After about ten minutes I saw a group of six golden plover circle me and land in amongst the bracken about a hundred metres away. I’ve seen groups of up to two hundred of these beautiful birds on Dartmoor but never got close to photograph them because the area where they landed on and stayed was so open. Just before they landed I dropped to the ground to reduce my height. I then slowly reduced the legs of my tripod to their minimum and over the next hour or so I crawled towards them ending up about fifteen metres away just peering through some of the bracken. I had angled myself downwind from them which meant that they were backlit. Some things to be aware with backlit subjects is 1, watch out from over burning the rim of the subject and 2, you have to slightly over expose the subject because otherwise you end up with a black blob as the subject. Use your histogram and adjust your exposure accordingly to get it right in camera. If you lighten the dark area in your RAW software all you do is introduce artefacts like digital noise to your image.

I slowly set up my camera and started taking images. One huge downside of using the high speed, 12 frames per second, motordrive on the Canon 1dx mk 1, like most DSLR’s, is that the mirror slaps sounds like a machine gun going off each time I press the shutter release and this alerts wildlife and they stop doing what they are doing to look at the direction of where the sound is coming from or they make off away from you. In other words it disturbs them and I hate disturbing wildlife especially just for a photograph. At this time of year there is a lot of migration going on and this might be the only food the birds could eat before moving on. This food or extra food could be the difference between life and death for them. This is one huge plus point with mirrorless cameras as they are silent when you press the shutter release and you can take images with the camera very close to wildlife without disturbing it. As I was so close to the golden plovers I changed the settings on my camera to shoot at a low motordrive speed of two frames per second rather than twelve. Doing this reduces the noise significantly and didn’t seem to disturb the plovers. The 1dx has a silent mode and it is a very quiet mode but the downside is that it only shoots a single frame each time you press the shutter release. This is not very good for wildlife photography because the wildlife can do any amount things when you take the image which you do not want to photograph like move its head for instance.

Golden PloverGolden PloverGolden Plover

For the next couple of hours I immersed myself with taking different images of the golden plovers including landscape images and portrait images. I started with non-action images before I moved onto action images of them eating and stretching their legs and wings. I waited until they did something before I pressed the shutter release. During this time the sun was moving round so I was getting more and more of the birds in good sunlight and therefore I had to reduce my exposure. The birds were moving closer to me, some less than 10 metres away, which I didn’t particularly want as a single bird was nearly filling the frame. They were so relaxed a couple of them had even closed their eyes and were going to sleep which made me feel really good inside because it showed that they were comfortable with my presence.

Golden Plover asleepGolden Plover asleepGolden Plover Asleep

During a slight break from shooting I noticed that about 12 red deer, hinds and fawns, had walked up the hill towards me and had settled down on a bank in the sunshine and out of the wind about 80 metres away from me. I was reluctant to leave the plovers to photograph the deer because I wanted a shot of a plover with an open beak. Half an hour later I got the shot I wanted, but I still stayed in position because I did not want to disturb the birds. I led back, closed my eyes and whilst the sun was warming me I listened to the red deer roaring, the golden plovers squawking and meadow pipits squeaking. More golden plovers flew overhead and all of a sudden the few beside me flew up to meet them. This was my queue to exit the scene and move closer to the hinds and fawns.

I crawled to within 30 metres of them, set up my camera and waited until they did something so I could get an action shot. After waiting over an hour I got fed up as they were doing nothing apart from eating and sleeping so I crawled away and when I was about 100 metres away from them I got up and carried on walking downhill. I looked back at the deer and although they saw me they weren’t too bothered as they stayed lying down.

Further downhill I located a red deer stag with several hinds, the herd was about 30 strong. I made my way closer to them, set up my camera and tripod behind a bush, so I remained in the shadow, and waited for them to get closer to me.

Red Deer ExmoorRed Deer ExmoorRed Deer Exmoor

There are several ways to get closer to wildlife and setting myself up a distance away and waiting for the wildlife to approach me is my favourite because the wildlife does not seem perturbed in the images I take whilst doing this. Also if I keep; downwind from the wildlife, perfectly still and within shadow the wildlife is not disturbed. One big downside of this method is that you rely on the wildlife moving closer to you and sometimes this does not work. As it happened the herd did move closer to me and I took a few shots before they moved off in another direction. This change in direction was not down to me but down to other people, photographers, that were trying to get closer to the herd. When I packed up, because the deer were moving away, and moved and it startled the other photographers because they had not seen me “lurking” in the bushes, which brought a smile to my face.

As it was nearly 4pm I walked back to my car pleased with what I had seen during the day but I would have to wait until I’ve seen my images on my computer monitor before I would be pleased them as they look totally different on the cameras rear LCD.

If you look under the workshops tab on my website you will notice that I have added 3 new one day wildlife photography workshops to the list. These include a Redwing and Fieldfare photography workshop ( ), a Dipper photography workshop ( ) and a Dartmoor pony’s photography workshop ( ). For more information on any of these then please click on these links or click on the link under the workshops tab.

If you like my blogs then please sign and leave a comment on my Guestbook page and Subscribe by pressing the RSS button at the bottom left of the page.

Also available are Digital Photography Tuition Including Post Processing Workflow, Dartmoor Bird & Wildlife Workshops and Talks (Please see the Workshops & Talks Tabs at the top of the website).

If you choose to stay at our Holiday Cottage / B&B at the time of the workshop then you will receive a discount on your tuition and accommodation. 


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) acorn lodge b&b artefacts Autumnwatch backlit photography bed & breakfast bed & breakfast Dartmoor building a nest Clint Eastwood collared doves in garden computer monitor Dartmoor Dartmoor bird workshop Dartmoor pony's digital noise digital photography tuition DSLR Exmoor exposure compensation golden plovers holiday cottage Landrover Freelander mirrorless camera photography photography workshop post processing workflow presenters on Autumnwatch presenters on Springwatch RAW software red deer red deer on Exmoor red deer rut red deer rut on Exmoor red deer rut photography workshop spaghetti western Springwatch wildlife wildlife photographer wildlife photography wildlife photography workshop workshops Sun, 10 Nov 2019 16:00:57 GMT
New ventures in the Field of Photography and Touring some of Scotland's Western Islands Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Well it has been a while since my last blog. There was me thinking that I would have more time after I retired but it seems that I have a lot less time! I just cannot think HOW I fitted work into my heavy schedule. Having said that, I have been really busy doing lots more things. The good side of it is that the things I have been doing are for me and my family rather than for an employer, the downside of it is that I do not get paid for it. I have still had time for photography and am starting new ventures in this field. You will notice that I said photography and not wildlife photography and the reasons for this are that I have started being a “second” photographer at weddings and I have started taking more landscape photographs around Dartmoor National Park. The “second” photographer started when I helped a friend of mine at his wedding. He and his wife, well in fact quite a few guests as well, appeared to like my reportage style of wedding photography so much that they informed their professional wedding photographer, Jane Austin ( that they wanted some of my photographs in their wedding portfolio. She agreed to this as long as I take my photos and she does the post processing, which suited me. Since then I have been her “second” for a few more weddings. It is hard work and I am really tired at the end of the day but I really enjoy it. None of the weddings have been the same due to weather, location, people etc. but my skills as a wildlife photographer brings something new to the party and I am learning a lot from her as well. The best thing about it is that due to our different styles of photography we really complement each other. Also all the brides and grooms and a lot of the guests have commented on our work ethic stating that we work so hard and are capturing some great images which is always nice to hear.

The landscapes started when I wanted to start a new project photographing Dartmoor’s stone crosses. It continued when I bought our motorhome as I’ve started writing articles for a motorhome magazine and they required some landscape photographs to go along with the article. It took me a few rewrites due to the way the editor wanted things done but I am having my first article published next year. The editor will let me know when and then I will let you know so that you can see/read it and tell me what you think. I still don’t enjoy waiting for the light for landscapes but it is the main factor that makes landscapes images great so I will have to persevere. 

Another new venture in this field is that I have been booked as a speaker to talk to a camera club about my wildlife photography which is happening near the end of November. (For details please click on the Talks Tab on my website) The president of the club likes my work and asked if I would give a talk at his club which I accepted. I had given a talk about my wildlife photography a few years ago to my camera club as a thank you for their help. It was warmly received and I had some great feedback from it, in fact the president of the club asked me if I wanted to be entered in the photography speaker lists for East Anglia but I declined this as I was moving down to Devon. The presentation I will give has been updated with new comments / photos and will last about 2 hours; I just hope I don’t get first night nerves.

After several hours, or should I say weeks, of ruminating, cogitating and deliberating, I finally finished planning our months ( last week in March and the first three weeks of April ) expedition to visit several of Scotland’s western islands in “Isla”, our motorhome. The islands we chose to include were Arran, Islay, Mull, Skye, Harris and Lewis in that order.

The journey up to Scotland would take us to Androssan where we would catch the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to the Isle of Arran. We left Devon with the temperature at 14 degrees, sun shining and a bright blue sky and it was the shape of things to come. The ferry crossing to Brodick, the main town, on the Isle of Arran lasted just under an hour. Murphy enjoyed the trip as we had to sit in the “dog” area on the ferry and as there were several dogs on this crossing he wanted to meet and greet them all. The Isle of Arran is 20 miles/32 km long and up to 10 miles/ 16 km wide. Most of the population live on the coast which means that the rugged and mountainous interior is still in its wild condition, although there are several forests run by the Forestry Commission. The tallest mountain is Goatfell which rises up to 2,865 ft/ 874 m. Whilst driving through Brodick we looked across the bay and spotted Brodick Castle, associated with Robert the Bruce, standing majestically above the trees that surround it. There is a rumour that it was in Kings Cave, which is on the west coast, that he saw the spider repeatedly trying to make its web. Seeing this spider overcome its problems gave him the encouragement to do the same. For over 500 years it was occupied by the Dukes of Hamilton but was passed to the Duke of Montrose on the marriage of Lady Mary Douglas-Hamilton in 1906. In 1958 it was then passed to the National Trust for Scotland. Brodick has a few very good “local” shops but if you are into spending a day on retail therapy then this is not the place for you. After buying a few needy items from Wooley’s of Arran we continued on our way north. OK “Wooley’s” are bakers and the “needy” items were cakes and pies! We pulled into an area out of the town which was sited next to the sea to eat our “needy” items and watch seals lounging around on the rocks. Is it just me or do they remind you of a giant slug? Further on we came across a huge valley and spotted about twenty Red Deer on top of one of the mountains relaxing and eating in the sun. We continued to the ruins of Lochranza castle which is sited on the shore just before the ferry terminal. It dates back to the 16th century and is cared for by Historic Scotland. If you are lucky you might see Red Deer in the water by the castle at dusk and Golden Eagles in the sky during the day. Otters also frequent this area but we did not see any. But on our way to the campsite we did see several Brown Hares on the fields and on the beach!

Brown HaresBrown HaresBrown Hares

The night passed very quietly apart from the snoring from Murphy! The next day we started exploring the south of the island from Shiskine to Blackwaterfoot, which is described as a small, chiefly modern-built, community with the Kinloch Hotel, a gallery, grocer, post office and a repair garage. What it does not mention is that it has a superb sandy beach. We stopped and while my wife walked Murphy and picked up driftwood along the beach I took photographs of the wildlife there which included Seals, Turnstones, Oystercatchers, Rock Pipits and Wheatears.


After spending a couple of hours here we continued and just before we entered Lagg I spotted a Pine Martin crossing the road. As these mammals are nocturnal something must have disturbed it and that something was a person who had just started strimming his grass. We stopped hoping to see it again but to no avail. Carrying on we spotted Ailsa Craig, an island just off the coast and at the entrance to the Firth of Clyde. It rises to a height of 1,114ft/338m and is all that remains of an ancient volcano. Today it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is home to over 70,000 breeding seabirds most of which are Gannets. Rats had wiped out all of the Puffins on the island but the RSPB removed them and now Puffins are thriving again on the island. Driving along Whiting Bay, we sighted Holy Island. You can catch a ferry to the Island from Lamlash, which is further along the coast towards Brodick. Dogs are not allowed on the island and it is only a summer service so we missed out on that trip.

The next morning we caught a ferry, from Lochranza to Claonaig on the Mull of Kintyre and then onto Kennacraig, to catch the next ferry to Port Askaig on Islay which took about 2.5 hours. Islay is the most southerly island of the Inner Hebrides and is about 25miles/ 40km wide and 16miles/25km long. The land area totals about 600km2. On arrival we were greeted with a dark grey sky, sleet and blustery winds. The west side of the island is reasonably flat mainly peat bog with hardly any trees or hedges. The mountains are on the east side of the island, the tallest being Beinn Bheigeir at 1611ft/491m. We drove to Machir Bay where we saw some Choughs which I tried to photograph but the wind was taking them so fast that I could not focus properly. I walked around the sand dunes and located some Brown Hares and Lapwings. We took Murphy for a walk along the stunning beach which we had all to ourselves. Then again walking along a beach with very strong winds and sleet is not everybody’s cup of tea, but Murphy enjoyed it. The night was very rough with the wind buffeting Isla every which way it could and we got very little sleep apart from Murphy. I did not realise how loud his snoring was!

The next morning I again tried to photograph the Choughs but again the weather hampered my attempt. The sun was shining again but it was still very windy so we visited RSPB Loch Gruinart which has a couple of hides and two walks, a moorland trail and a woodland trail. We walked the latter because we could look in both hides. Through the first, Taigh Deas, we saw Greylag and Barnacle geese. We also saw a Wren, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Lapwings, Redshank, quite a few Snipe and a distance view of a Golden Eagle. Through the second, Taigh Tuath, we had close-ups of more Snipe. You can get Cuckoos and Corncrakes on this site later in the year. After lunch we drove on to Kilnave Chapel and Kilnave Cross which was built in the 13/14th century and belonged to the parish of Kilchoman. In 1598 the battle of Traigh Gruinart took place between the MacDonalds of Islay and the MacLeans of Mull. After the battle the surviving MacLeans took refuge in Kilnave and they were locked in by the MacDonalds and burnt. We then drove to Kildalton Chapel which was also built in the 13/14th century but the cross is a Christian cross that was built in the 8th century. At dusk whilst walking Murphy along the road we saw two Fallow deer but it was too dark to photograph them.

Kilnave Chapel and CrossKilnave Chapel and CrossKilnave Chapel and Cross

The next day we were back to the sleet, temperature was down to 3 degrees and it was still very windy. During Murphy’s walk we came across two Red deer in the woods, a stag and a hind, sheltering from the weather. We headed to RSPB The Oa, on the south of the island, which has Red deer, Golden Eagles, Corncrakes, later in the year, and Choughs. When we arrived the sleet was so thick visibility was down to only a few metres. We waited an hour or so to see if it improved but as it didn’t we decided to drive towards Post Askaig. Along this route just after Ballygrant there is the Finlaggan Centre which is the ancient seat of the Lords of the Isles. 1500 years ago Islay was the centre of the Argyll/Ulster kingdom of Dal Riata and was a major staging post for Irish Christian missionaries. This kingdom was from the north tip of Lewis to the south of Ulster including most of the west of the Scottish mainland. It was owned by the MacDonalds but was taken by the Campbells when the MacDonalds were plotting with the English to take control of Scotland. The next morning we left Islay feeling disappointed as the island has some wonderful wildlife but the weather, while we were there, was horrendous and I could not tell you what the scenery was like.

The ferry took us back to Kennacraig and from there we drove to Oban to catch the ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. This is one island I truly love and this is the third time we have visited it. The Isle of Mull has an area of 875 km2 and the highest mountain is Ben More at 3,169ft/966m. It is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides. The two things it is most renowned for are the coloured houses in Tobermory and its prolific wildlife. Looking on Facebook and talking/listening to other wildlife photographers gives me the opinion that everyone has a different “hot spot” on Mull for wildlife. Craignure Bay, Loch Don, Loch Spelve, Loch Na Keal, Calgary Bay, Carsaig Bay and Loch Scridain to name a few. The three main animals/birds photographers are after are Otters, White Tailed Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles. There is an abundant of other wildlife on Mull but these are the “big three”. As soon as the ferry docked I was off to “my” favourite Otter “hot spot” and as we were about half way around the loch I spotted a male Otter lounging on top of a rock just a few feet away from the waters edge. I parked up, took my camera and that was the last time my wife saw me for a few hours. Later whilst walking Murphy around the loch we saw Red deer over on the other side and then whilst walking back to Isla saw a White Tailed Sea Eagle flying over the loch.

Whilst driving along a minor road to Dervaig we spotted what we think is a Wildcat. I excitedly jumped out and took some photos of it and will send them off to somebody that knows for it to be checked. Talking to some people about our sighting I got mixed reviews, some say yes and others no. What do you think?

Wild Cat?Wild Cat?Scottish Wild Cat?

 Further along my wife spotted a Golden Eagle perched on a boulder. After a while some crows started harassing it and it took flight flying right over our heads. We carried on to Calgary bay which is on the North West of the Island. Calgary Bay is a really nice sandy beach with rocky edges. Several people, including my wife and me, have seen Otters amongst these rocks but none were seen today. About half way along the road from Dervaig to Salen is a little road on your right which takes you to a small port which you need to take if you want to catch a ferry to Ulva, a small island off the west coast of Mull. It is also the port that you need if you want to catch the boat to see White Tailed Sea Eagles taking fish off the loch, Mull Charters ( ). From here we drove to Craignure Bay, to our campsite which is situated on the shore and gives it uninterrupted views of the Sound of Mull and Loch Linnhe across to the Scottish mainland.

Touring the south of the island we drove to Knock where we stopped for a walk on the Benmore Estate, ( ). You can walk up Ben More as it is on the estate but other activities can also be done here like pony trekking and mountain biking. Afterwards we drove along the south shores of Loch Na Keal looking for Otters with no luck. When you get to Balnahard the road turns inland, we looked down into the valley on the right and saw several Red deer. The views along the road to Loch Scridain are spectacular, Golden Eagles are sometimes viewed in this area. We arrived back on our campsite early because I wanted to try a get some images of Otters that frequent the area. I was extremely lucky because within 30 minutes I spotted a female otter with her two kits.


After taking several images of them playing, catching fish and eating I walked away to let them have some peace. Whilst we were eating our tea we saw a male Otter hunting, catching and eating just in front of our motorhome.

Back at my “hot spot” I walked along the shore looking for Otters whilst my wife relaxed and took care of Murphy and once again it was not long before I spotted one swimming along the shore edge. I took several photos of him before he turned around and started swimming the other way. At one point I sat down and just watched him hunting. During this time he exited the water and walked up the beach passing within 20 metres of me. The Otters eyesight is not great if you sit still, but its sense of smell is something else. It walked up under a metal pontoon and started rubbing itself on several things that were there. Then all of a sudden it dashed out and ran into the water to resume hunting passing even closer to me. These are moments I treasure as a wildlife photographer.


We caught the early ferry the next day as I had to drive to the Isle of Skye. The route I took veers left at Spean Bridge and there is a memorial to the commandos of World War 2. It is 17ft/5.2m high, and is of three bronze commandos, looking south towards the Nevis mountains, dressed in typical WWII uniforms. It is "In memory of the officers and men of the commandos who died in the Second World War 1939–1945. This country was their training ground." In 1942 the Commando Basic Training Centre was at Achnacarry Castle which is a few miles north of the monument but, Spean Bridge was the railway station they arrived at before marching to Achnacarry. In 1949 Scott Sutherland won a competition to design a memorial to the commandos and the bronze was cast by H H Martyn Ltd, of Cheltenham.

Commando StatueCommando Statue

As we drove along we came to the end of Loch Duich and spotted Eilean Donan Castle, ( ), sticking out on its own little island near the edge of the Loch where two other Loch’s, Long and Alas meet. The castle is one of the most recognised and photographed in Scotland. It was built in the 13th century as a defensive measure for protecting the lands of Kintail against the Vikings. Over the centuries, the castle itself has expanded and contracted in size. In the 14th century the area of the castle was reduced to about a fifth of its original size. Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and, with his Clerk of Works Farquar Macrae, he restored the castle to its former glory which was finally completed in 1932. We could have taken the ferry from Malliag to Armadale but we wanted to see the 500 metres long Skye Bridge, which spans across Loch Alsh, and was opened in 1995. This bridge connects the Isle of Skye to Eilean Ban and another bridge connects Eilean Ban to the Scottish mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. The Skye Bridge is stunning, well worth viewing, and is a great optical illusion as the motorhome in front of us seemed to be going over the edge or up into thin air!

We arrived at the Loch Greshornish campsite just before 2pm and were given a pitch just in front of the shore giving us an uninterrupted view of the loch. Settling down with our tea we were greeted to a terrific sunset. Skye is 50miles/80.5km long, 25miles/40km wide and is the largest of the Inner Hebrides. The population is just over 10,000 and the capital is Portree. The highest point is Sgùrr Alasdair in the Black Cuillin, the only series of alpine peaks in Britain, on the East of the island at 3,255ft/992m. Skye is famous for its scenery which takes your breath away and is a landscape photographers dream. Landscape and wildlife photography was out of the question due to time restraints. We set out early to explore as much of Skye as we could because National Geographic list it as the 4th best island in the world and we wanted to see why. We picked a circular route heading to the East coast, to Portree and returning to the campsite along the West coast. This route would only let us see about half of the centre of the island.

Portree Harbour SkyePortree Harbour SkyePortree Harbour, Skye

The scenery along the A863 is stunning especially the view of Loch Harport from just before Drynoch and around Gesto Bay. On the way back I drove to Stein where there is the oldest inn on Skye. It is an eighteenth-century inn that is nestled in a charming hamlet on the shores of the Sea of the Hebrides. We parked up and walked along the shore with my camera in hand hoping to photograph any wildlife but none was at hand except gulls and Oystercatchers in the distance.

We left early to catch the ferry from Uig to Tarbet on the Isle of Harris. Whilst at Uig I spotted a bit of wildlife in the shape of a Highland cow in a little fenced off area! We arrived on Harris after a very calm crossing and our first stop was to visit the Harris Tweed shops, one with goods, the other with material, for sale, at the port. The inhabitants of Harris, Lewis, Uist and Barra have woven this beautiful and intricate cloth by hand from time immemorial. But the beginning of the Harris Tweed industry began in 1846 when Lady Dunmore, widow of the landowner of Harris, the Earl of Dunmore, chose to have their clan tartan replicated by Harris weavers in tweed. The result was so good that she began to market the tweed to her well-off friends and because of her passionate work, sales and trade of the cloth, with merchants across the country, was rapidly established.

Harris and Lewis are part of the same island, Harris in the South and Lewis in the North and over 20,000 people populate this island. Driving out of the port we turned left and drove along the coast road to Rodel via “The Golden Road” stopping at Plocropol and Grosebay to visit more Harris Tweed shops. The road is very narrow but the scenery is stunning as it is mostly lunar-like rocky plateaus with lochs and rugged coastline interrupting it. At Rodel we returned towards Tarbet and along this road are some spectacular beaches which you could not better even if you were in the Caribbean. Because the sun was shining, the sea was azure and the sand was white we stopped at the beach in Borve to get some sand between our toes, if you come to Harris this is essential. The tranquil atmosphere was only enhanced by the gentle sounds of the rolling waves lapping at our feet. It was pure magic as we were the only people on the beach. After a couple of hours of the free “spa” treatment we carried on through Tarbet, into Lewis to Stornoway.

Beach on Isle of HarrisBeach on Isle of HarrisBeach on Isle of Harris

In Stornoway we noticed more wildlife in the shape of a wooden highland cow on the roadside and in the town there was some groovy art on some of the buildings and statues around the docks.

Highland Cow at StornowayHighland Cow at StornowayHighland Cow at Stornoway

After lunch we drove back to Tarbet to catch the ferry to Uig and start our long drive home. On the way we went to visit Lockerbie and pay our respects to the victims of the 1988 Pan Am 103 air disaster. It is not until you examine the area surrounding Lockerbie, on Google Earth, you notice that there is a lot of open ground around this town and is was such a pity that the death toll, of this act of terrorism, increased by 11 people from the town, to 270. The Garden of Remembrance lies just outside of Lockerbie along the A709 to Lochmaben road. It is beautiful but heart rendering especially when you see the 270 list of names. We also had time to visit the Eskrigg Reserve, a Wildlife Trust reserve ( ). There are some outstanding Wildlife Trust sites around the country and this is one of the top ones. It is run by Jim Rae, the reserve manager, who seems to have his camera with him at all times and is always keen to impart his knowledge of the reserve and its inhabitants if you wish to learn more about the area.

Red SquirrelRed SquirrelRed Squirrel


Scotland is a fabulous place to visit and although I love the place I would not visit in the summer months due to the dreaded midge. Apart from Islay, which did not show us her best side, I would love to go back to have more time to explore the islands. A couple of things we did notice through the whole trip was 1, there was hardly any water in the rivers in fact some had no water at all, who said it always rains in Scotland? 2, there was so much plastic on some of the beaches and inlets. Sifting through some of this plastic revealed that it was mostly from fishing trawlers: - net, line, buoys, polystyrene boxes etc. and not plastic bags from supermarkets but plastic bags from fishing bait. It’s really sad to see sights like this that you wonder about the health of this planet.

A last note to inform you that my photography workshop prices will be going up in the new year but if you book before January 1st then they will be at the old price, even if you book for next year.


If you like my blogs then please sign and leave a comment on my Guestbook page and Subscribe by pressing the RSS button at the bottom left of the page.

Also available are Digital Photography Tuition Including Post Processing Workflow, Dartmoor Bird & Wildlife Workshops and Talks (Please see the Workshops & Talks Tabs at the top of the website).

If you choose to stay at our Holiday Cottage / B&B at the time of the workshop then you will receive a discount on your tuition and accommodation. 





(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Achnacarry castle Arran bride and groom Brodick camera club Claonaig cross" Dartmoor Dartmoor National Park Dartmoor stone crosses Devon Duke Duke of Montrose Dukes of Hamilton East Anglia Eilean Donan castle eskrigg reserve Harris and Lewis Harris tweed Inner Hebrides Islay Isle of Mull Jane Austin Kennacraig Kildalton Chapel Kilnave Kilnave Chapel landscape landscape photography Loch Duich Loch Scridain Lochranza castle Lockerbie motorhome Mull Mull charters National Geographic National Truso for Scotland Oban Photographer photographs photography Portree post processing retired Robert the Bruce romance romance photography RSPB Scotland Scottish islands Scottish wildcat Skye Spean Bridge Stornoway tweed wedding photography weddings wildcat Wildlife Wildlife Photographer wildlife photography Wildlife Trust Sun, 25 Aug 2019 13:18:59 GMT
Building a Garden Pond, New Computers, Extra bits you might need & Practicing What I Preach Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Continuing from my last blog where I suggested that you turn your garden into a wildlife area for your photography. I had a very interesting conversation, via email, with a gentleman who, after reading my blog thought, I thought that everybody has a large garden with fields, woods and moorland surrounding it. If anybody else thought that then I am sorry if I gave that impression, I can assure you that I certainly do not think that. I know there are hundreds of thousands of people that have small gardens or no garden at all. Well if you are one of these people then do not let that stop you. Think outside the box and see what you could do to achieve some of my ideas. If you do not have a garden then you could buy some land, rent some land, use an allotment, ask a neighbour, ask a relative, ask a farmer, ask the council, ask the forestry commission, ask the wildlife trust or ask any other person who has land. Tell them what you want to do with it and keep your fingers crossed. During my life I have asked several of the above and have had good responses as well as negative ones. If you have a small garden then just lower your aspirations and don’t think big, think small, you are not going to get herds of wildebeest majestically roaming your garden but you are still going to get a huge amount of insects and bugs that are just as demanding, if not more so, to photograph. A variety of bird feeders are still a good idea and you never know what you might attract.

One of the ideas was to build a pond, big using a liner, medium using preformed plastic or small using a dustbin lid. A water hole entices a huge amount of wildlife in your garden, from Foxes and Badgers drinking, Birds bathing through Frogs and Toads spawning, Dragonflies mating to Newts, Flies and all sorts of pond life above the water and below. It’s no good just plonking a pond anywhere, you have got to think and plan where you are going to site it. If possible pick a sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind. To help entice amphibians then plant some tall vegetation or put a log pile or rock pile close to the pond as this gives them cover from hunters. Think also about where you will want to photograph this wildlife from. The hard work will be the digging out of the soil. One thing to remember is that there should be a shallow end that slopes down into the rest of the pond so that wildlife can get in and out. If you are using a dustbin lid (DL) then put suitable rocks in it to achieve this. Having a deep end will allow the wildlife to retire to it during the winter if it freezes over. Don’t forget to top the water up in the summer especially if it gets hot. It is better to fill the pond with rainwater then using the water from your tap and to keep it topped up you could use water from a waterbutt. If you have a shed close enough you could divert a downpipe from the guttering on your shed into the pond to keep it topped up then don’t forget to have a run off area and think where the water will go when the pond is full. If you have a DL then you might have to top this up quite regularly. You will have to introduce pond plants to help keep the water clear and entice wildlife. Ask at your local garden centre which plants would suit your pond. Once your pond is built please do not introduce wildlife to it, trust me they will find it on their own accord.

For Christmas I bought myself a new computer as my old one has started to go wrong. Ever since my solid state drive went wrong last year other things started going wrong like the sound card, the motherboard battery, a cooling fan and one of the hard drives doesn’t sound too good so I thought I’d better back my images and other work up so that I don’t lose it and then buy a new computer. Having a new computer isn’t a 100% safe bet that it won’t break down but it does limit it. The only downside is getting all the software and hardware working on it. My first problem was my old keyboard was not compatible with it. It had an old style plug on it and I could not find an adapter so I had to buy a new keyboard. The next thing I had to do was download all the programs I use like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. This took nearly two days due to the “wonderful” speed of my broadband. The next was Microsoft Office which went well apart from Outlook which only loaded about 12 of my emails. Therefore I went back to my old computer to resend all my old emails. This overloaded my server and I did not have any emails for two weeks! A word with my broadband provider and things were sorted within a day. I found another route to save my old emails. Don’t ask why I hoard them, I just do and it has helped me no end in the past. Once this was all sorted I then started to download all my images from my external drive. This along with a few other bits and pieces took four days. There are still a few items that need doing like printers and my Wacom tablet. Once this is done then I can take the two hard drives and the solid state drive out of my old computer and install them into my new one to act as backups. The old computer and keyboard will then be “stored” away in the attic, along with the others!!!!!

Have you bought or acquired items, on the spur of the moment or thought about an item that would be really necessary to improve and help your photography only for it to be put in your camera bag, drawer, cupboard etc. for it not to be used or to never even see the light of day? Or have you upgraded your camera equipment and are still hording your old equipment just in case you need it sometime? If you say no I would find it hard to believe you. Most, if not all, the photographers I know have, why we do it I really don’t know. I was cleaning out my photography cupboard the other day, well it’s a couple of wardrobes actually because I have all my camouflage clothing, boots, netting and hides as well as my camera equipment in them, and found so much stuff I do not use. This included several camera and lens bags that I either: - got as presents, bought because I really needed another one or got free by subscribing to a magazine. It also included several sizes of flashguns from quite small for macro through large to two floodlights with umbrellas which I could use for portraits (if ever I do any). I found a light meter, an old Sigma 300mm apo lens, four old cameras with sensors starting at 2mp upwards, two film cameras including a Canon EOS 600 (what a great camera that was), several tripod heads, small cases for small “gadgets”, straps, batteries, other bits and bobs and several electronic devices for doing something which I can’t remember what. I found a Jessops Target Tele-Grip which, when attached, made your camera and long lens look like you were holding a sniper rifle, it was really good at  keeping your equipment steady because you were using your shoulder to steady it. Sadly I cannot use it now because the shutter release on my cameras does not have a screw thread.

This is an image of a similar type of Tele-Grip.


Last but not least I found a Lee Filters “Big Stopper” filter which I bought, for a very good price, at a show a few years ago and it has not even been unwrapped. For those that don’t know, a “Big Stopper” is a filter that nearly blocks out all the light so that you can reduce the shutter time of your exposure to several minutes. Anything moving within your image will either be a blur or disappear completely. I was going to use it for Landscape photography but it never happened, maybe one day! Along with clearing out my cupboards I cleared out my camera bags and had to laugh at a certain items I found in there. During my time in my last job I had to go away on several courses and during these times I would be put up in a hotel by my job. Some were very posh hotels and some we shall say were not so posh but nearly every hotel had one of these either in a drawer by the bed or in the bathroom. What is the item I am talking about well it’s the humble shower cap. Now you might laugh and wonder why I, who is follically challenged on my head, took a shower cap, but a shower cap acts as a very good waterproof cover for your camera and lens if you are ever caught in a downpour. It weighs next to nothing and so small that it easily fits into a pocket. The thing is that after checking my bags I found over 20 of these and again I have never used them! Going through and finding all this “stuff”, which I have not used in years cluttering up my cupboard, has given me a kick up the backside and I am going to try and sell them on Ebay or Gumtree. Does anybody know the price of a showercap?

This last week I have been practicing what I have been preaching on my blog and have been working on a wildlife studio setup in my field at the rear of our house. I have not been able to do this previously because of my wife’s horse using the field. But last year it was with great sadness that he passed away and as we are not going to get another means that I can use the field for my photography. I have been digging holes and putting drainpipes into them for different branches. Also, as I still have the old garden table, I have positioned it within the setup and built a dry stone wall on it. I am hoping to get other wildlife on it for me to photograph. Having the wall raised up on the table means that I do not have to lay down on the floor for ages to get eye level images of the wildlife. (Remember I am 60!) Whilst on that subject, I went to photograph Dippers along the river the other day. I arrived at about 07:00hrs and the weather was cold but dry. I found a good position with some boulders in the river, settled down on a sandy area, and waited for the wildlife to appear. Even though I was in my camouflaged clothing when I do this, I hardly move at all as any movement will scare the wildlife. After about an hour and a half, as nothing had appeared I decided to move up river and try my luck there. I tried to get up and found that, due to the cold (OK and my age), my legs had seized up and would not move. I had to physically move them by hand and wait about ten minutes, whilst the blood got through, before I could stand. (I am not too impressed with this getting old lark!) The move proved fruitful because within fifteen minutes along came a Grey Wagtail which I photographed for the next half hour. The light was not great, clear sky with bright sunshine, as the front of the bird was burning out even though I was photographing it with minus one stop exposure compensation but beggars can’t be choosers.

Grey WagtailGrey WagtailGrey Wagtail

I digress and back to my wildlife studio setup. I collected a couple of fallen branches from our nature reserve and placed them in the drainpipes. Once that was all done I then put out some feeders to attract the birds. I left the setup for a few days and then setup my hide to see what was taking the food. Whilst I was in my hide I could see where the birds were coming from and noticed that my feeders were too high for the birds to land on the branches. I therefore reduced the height of the feeders by taking out the middle section of the feeder and nearly straight away the birds started landing of my branches. The images below were taken on this new setup.







If you like my blogs then please sign and leave a comment on my Guestbook page and Subscribe by pressing the RSS button at the bottom left of the page. It's FREE and you will be notified when i have posted my Blog.

Also available are Digital Photography Tuition Including Post Processing Workflow, Dartmoor Bird & Wildlife Workshops (Please see the Workshops Tab at the top of the website).

If you choose to stay at our Holiday Cottage / B&B at the time of the workshop then you will receive a discount on your tuition and accommodation. 



(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Adobe Lightroom Adobe Photoshop allotment Badgers drinking bird feeders Birds bathing build a pond buy a new computer camera bag camera equipment camouflage clothing Canon EOS 600 Christmas council Dartmoor Devon Dragonflies mating Ebay exposure compensation farmer forestry commission garden wildlife area Gumtree Jessops land Landscape photography Lee Filters Lee Filters Big Stopper light meter Lightroom Microsoft Office photography pond pond life small gardens Toads spawning tripod heads Wacom tablet wildlife in your garden Wildlife Photographer wildlife studio wildlife trust Sun, 24 Mar 2019 11:11:13 GMT
Excuses Excuses Excuses and starting Wildlife Photography in your garden Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Well Happy New Year to all of you. I hope you had a great time over the festive period.

During the festive period I was thinking about going out with my camera but there was always something else to do, visit family’s, walk Murphy, visit friends etc. Don’t get me wrong, lots of these excuses that stop me doing something are genuine but some were a bit weak to fully justify me not doing it, but it still stopped me. Humans are a funny breed we like doing something but we tend to stop ourselves doing it after a while by making up feeble excuses instead of just telling the truth which is we don’t feel like doing it, take New Year resolutions for example. We don’t make up these feeble excuses when we are going out for a meal or a drink! A few years ago I used to really enjoy running in the New forest, where I lived. I would get up at 4:30am and go for a minimum run of about 5 miles to a maximum run of 12 miles and I would be back in time before most people got up to go to work. I really enjoyed these runs because I would be out on my own, with nobody else or traffic around, and I would see a tremendous amount of wildlife. But there were several times I would get up and then think up an excuse not to go out the door. Sometimes it wouldn’t work but most of the time it did and I would just go back to my nice warm bed. This changed slightly when I started entering half marathon races as I had a goal to aim for. But after a few years and so many races the excuses started again.

Over 40 years ago (YES I am really that old!) I worked for an insurance firm and the excuses that people wrote on their claim forms were to die for. Here are a few of the excuses I can remember:-

A tree/bush/lamppost bumped into my car, damaging it!

There were plenty of on-lookers to the accident but no witnesses!

I swerved several times before I struck the tree/bush with the front of my car!

The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run so I ran over him!

The other car collided with mine without giving warning of its intentions!

The accident happened because I had one eye on the lorry in front, one eye on the pedestrian and the other on the car behind!

We received so many we all had a good laugh reading them. These are not the same excuses as the ones that stop us doing something but they are along the same lines as all humans are still trying to justify an action or inaction:-

Weather Person – After months of a dry spell we get a day of rain but their excuse for the reservoir not filling up is that it is the wrong sort of rain!

Trains – Trains not running, their excuse is that there are leaves or is snow on the track!

Missed train – Announcement at Bournemouth station "The train now arriving on platform one is on fire. Passengers are advised not to board this train."

Missed flight – Could not find a car park space, did not hear the boarding calls, fell asleep after arriving at the airport on time!

Of course at this time of year people think of some wonderful excuses to stop their New Year resolutions. Most People will choose the main two resolutions to work on, these being to lose weight or to get fit. The saddest thing is that most New Year resolutions are broken or stopped before the 10th January so they don’t even last 2 weeks! Here are a few excuses:-


My New Years resolution was to lose weight, so far I have only lost my motivation to lose weight!

I wanted to lose weight so I started by eating all the junk food in the house so that it won’t tempt me, that’s why I gained 4 pounds!

I haven’t got enough time to eat healthily!

The kids will only eat junk food!

Eating healthy food is too boring!

My Doctor told me I’m the correct weight; I just need to be 3 foot taller!

I lost 20 pounds, trouble is I gained 30!


Can’t afford to go to the gym – even though you bought a years membership!

Not enough time to go to the gym ("No time" seems to be a big excuse for everything!)

I’m too tired to get fit!

I can’t go to the gym because there are too many fit people there!

I’m busy with work (I used to use this one!)

It’s too cold in January to run outside so I’ll start in the summer!

When I get home from work and eat tea my stomach is too full to run!

Humans can think of some wonderful excuses I wonder what excuses you thought of this festive period?

Photographing Wildlife in Your Garden

Throughout my blogs I have always stated that the best place to start Wildlife Photography is in your garden. The main reasons for this are:-

It is easy to get to, just step outside your door.

The wildlife gets used to you so can be approached closer than in the wild.

You can set up the perches how you like and change them often.

You can entice the wildlife with food and places to live.

You can set up a hide and control the foreground and background.

The hide can remain in situe so the wildlife gets used to it.

You decide when you want to photograph the wildlife.

You might have different habitats all within a small space.

Basically, you control the environment and the wildlife comes to you to be photographed.

So how do you entice wildlife to your garden?

Before you start take notes on some of the wildlife you find in your garden. Look and listen at what is happening in your garden. See how wildlife interacts with each section of your garden and what you think might benefit that area in the future. Invest in this time and let nature present its opportunities to you, it will be worth it in the long run. This helps you not to make any costly mistakes and to put the changes in the right area of the garden. Think about the photographs you want to achieve and plan your garden around this. Once this is done then it is time for some DIY and improvements to make to your garden / wildlife area. The best way to start is with a plan of your garden on paper. Think of where the sun is positioned throughout the year and remember that it changes over the seasons. The next thing is to consider where you will be doing your photography, so you can plan your backgrounds and foregrounds and think about what to plant in these positions. To improve your backgrounds, think about using raised beds or even planting flowers in pots, which can be moved to a better position or can be changed to vary your photography when you want to begin shooting.     

1. If you can plant some trees or a hedge.

Native trees like silver birch, crabapple, alder, elm, beech, ash, oak etc. will help attract birds and insects. Don’t forget some of these trees will be very slow growing. They provide nesting places for birds, bats and insects. Rowan trees will attract several birds to feed off the berries. You might even be lucky enough to attract Waxwings to these trees during the winter. If you have a large garden then you could plant a few trees near each other which will create a small woodland type habitat which brings in a wider range of wildlife. If you do this remember where you want to photograph the wildlife and do not block off the light.

Hedges also provide additional nesting and refuge or safe areas, when hawks are around, for birds and small animals. They also help to shelter your garden from strong winds. A hedge or bush near your feeders will give the birds an area of safety to fly to if a predator appears whilst they are feeding. Suitable hedge plants include blackthorn, hawthorn and hazel. You could also plant some climbers and creepers to provide extra foliage to increase the insect population and help attract more birds. Clematis, dog rose, ivy and honeysuckle are a good choice.

2. Grow Flowers

Butterflies, bees, moths, hoverflies and other insects are attracted to areas of flowers. Buddlea is a good choice if you want to attract butterflies. You want to plant flowers that produce a source of nectar and/or pollen throughout the year. Planting wildflowers is a good choice like sunflowers, teasel, forget-me-not, cornflowers, foxgloves, bluebells etc. Do some research and select the wild flowers that will attract the subjects you want to photograph. If you don’t have a preference for a particular subject, a standard UK wild flower mix will provide an excellent starting point. 

3. Nurture a wildlife area

Leave an area of your lawn to become wild to impersonate a wild meadow. This will entice mice, shrews, voles and other mammals that feed on grass or insects. Stacking a pile of logs in one corner of your wildlife area will encourage beetles, frogs and grubs to them and this will encourage larger hunters. It will also encourage snails and slugs which are food for thrushes and hedgehogs. Leave weeds to grow in this area, weeds like nettles are great for red admiral and peacock butterflies. Have an area of sunny bare earth, which you never dig, just weed occasionally for tawny mining bees. If you have any bare walls then you could add a trellis and plant a cover plant like ivy which will provide cover for birds and is excellent insect food.

4. Put up nest boxes

Nest boxes will encourage birds to breed in your garden. There are different types of boxes to suit different birds. Search the internet to read about where the best place is to site these boxes. Remember they should be sheltered from the elements and installed before spring so that you do not disrupt the breeding season. Do not site them too close to where you want to set your feeders up, remember the area around their nest is their domain and there will be fights if other birds get close to this area.

5. Set up a Bird Feeding station

Setting up a bird feeding station using different feeders filled with proper bird safe peanuts, different types of seed and other bird food like fat balls will attract birds. You can get squirrel-proof bird feeders to ensure the squirrels don’t steal all the food. You can also pin up bacon rind on a make shift feeder and slices of apple placed on the floor will attract blackbirds and thrushes.

When setting up a bird feeding station remember to also include a bird bath to provide a water source for them to drink and wash in. During the winter remember to make sure that your bird bath does not freeze over. You can just replenish the water or you can pour hot water over it to melt the ice.

A word of warning, if you have a cat then put a bell on it as it will kill a lot of the birds you attract.

Male BullfinchMale Bullfinch

6. Attracting Mammals to your garden

You can build or buy a hedgehog house to keep them safe when they are hibernating. Hedgehogs like worms and slugs and they might find some of these in your log pile. Please do not leave out Milk or Bread as this causes digestive problems and can kill them. To get these into your garden you need to make sure you have a way for them to enter and leave so your fence needs to have a hole in it at ground level that is big enough for them to come and go. Foxes and Badgers are attracted to bird safe peanuts so put these out on the ground just after dusk. Foxes also like dried dog food. Be warned that Badgers also like worms and will dig big holes in your lawn to get them. I had this problem a few years ago, I loved watching them eat the nuts but the lawn was such a mess that I had to stop attracting them. Foxes will cache some of the nuts which might mean they will dig up your lawn as well. I was lucky living next to a wood because the foxes I used to attract would take the nuts to the wood and cache them there. Foxes are also attracted to road kill but be aware so are rats. Again apart from food remember to leave out some water.


7. Build a Water Feature or Pond

If you have the space then building a water feature in your garden or building a pond in your garden, no matter how small it is, is great as this will vary your wildlife area environment. A water feature or a pond allows you to entice frogs, toads, newts as well as dragonflies and other water based insects. You can also plant things like water lilies and pond weed to help your underwater habitat. These can be bought from your local garden centre.


Along with a pond, a sheet of corrugated metal on a bit of rough grass provides a home for many creatures and is an excellent place for grass snakes and common lizards to warm up in the morning.

Once you have attracted the wildlife how do you go about photograph them?

Building a hide

Having your own hide can be a great way to shoot wildlife in your garden and there are a couple of options, depending on how permanent you want the hide to be. If you only intend to photograph on the odd day, then a simple pop-up hide will suffice. You might want to put it up and leave it in position for a while until the wildlife gets used to it. A good point about a pop-up hide is that you can move it about as the light changes and being in your garden means that it is less likely to "go walkies". The bad point is that you will get cold especially early in the morning and in winter also most of them are not very comfortable. If you want a more permanent solution then buy a small shed and place this in your chosen position. You can remove a window or cut a hole in the wall and place scrim netting over it. You could put a heater in it to keep warm, put carpet and insulate the walls to deaden any sound you make. Because of the comfort you will be more inclined to stay longer in this type of hide which will mean you will not miss many photo opportunities especially when the mammals turn up. You need to be quiet in a hide so you need to be comfortable and warm. The world is your oyster, any fool can be cold and if you are cold then you will fidget. Remember fidgeting = no photos.

When setting up your hide think about the foreground and background. To get a good bokeh your background needs to be at least 3x the distance you are from your subject. In other words If you are 2m away from your subject then the background should be at least 6m away from the rear of the subject or 8m away from you. Try photographing it with your favoured lens and see what the results are like. Think about the light and the direction it will be coming from. Think about distractions from things like branches, flower stems etc. and avoid any plants with shiny leaves, like holly, which can create horrible hot spots in your images.

Birds tend to be more active early in the morning, when they get up, and later in the afternoon, just before they go to sleep, but they are active for most of the day. Mammals on the other hand are a bigger challenge. They do visit gardens on a regular basis but because they rely on scent and hearing the “not fidgeting” statement becomes the number 1 rule. You also need to spend a great deal of time in your hide so that you will be there when they do attend your setup. An alternative approach to this is to use a remote shutter release that you can fire from the inside of your house. Regular contact will also help habituate many species and over time they will learn that you are no threat and behave naturally when you’re around. It took me about 6 months before the foxes got used to me and after that they used to be there waiting for me to bring them food. They used to wait just behind a bush, about 2m away, watch me put the dried dog food out and then come out when I had taken a couple of steps away. It was fantastic seeing them so close. I often had Foxes, Hares, Rabbits and Muntjac deer visiting my garden during the day.


Frogs, toads, and reptiles are becoming more reliant on gardens as a place to feed, relax and breed because their natural habitats are in decline which is good news for wildlife photographers but bad news for the actual wildlife, that’s why everybody needs a water feature in their garden. Once your water feature or pond is established then frogs and toads will find it, where do they come from, who knows. They travel great distances to return to their breeding grounds in spring and this is the time to photograph them as they will be active during the day and at night. Outside of this breeding season you might find them in damp places, like your log pile. If you don’t have a log pile then very early or at dusk is good at other times of the year. Have a walk around your wildlife area and look in your pond with a small LED torch during the night and it might reveal them out on their rambles. If you catch it right your pond could be full of mating toads just like I witnessed a couple of times in my life. In the morning they were gone and only the spawn remained as evidence.

What camera equipment do I need?

To capture a medium-sized bird at a decent size in the frame, you’ll need a telephoto lens of at least 300mm. A 100mm to 400mm zoom is a better option as this will give you more options when creating your composition. This is also a good choice lens for photographing mammals. If this is coupled with a camera that has a cropped sensor, which effectively increases the magnification, then it is very helpful when photographing birds or mammals at a greater distance. You’ll need a camera that is capable of shooting at 5 frames per second or faster which will increase your chances of capturing action shots. You might need a flash or two as many mammals are most active when light levels are low. For amphibians and insects then you can fit extension tubes to your zoom, which enables the lens to focus closer or fit a proper macro lens instead if you have one. Buy a lens that is close focusing to achieve a good image size.


Timing your photography to correspond with peak bird activity at dawn or at dusk will also mean catching the attractive golden sunlight that will bring out the rich colours in a bird’s plumage. The direction of the light depends on your creativity. Don’t discard soft overcast light as this is great for revealing detail in the plumage. The golden sunlight also suits mammals but beggars can’t be choosers and when the mammals appear then that is the best time to photograph them! If the light is dull then you could use flash to enhance the light and if it is too strong then use flash as a fill-in and fill in the deep shadows. At night, try to use 2 flashguns one as a main light source and the other as a fill-in. Indirect natural light is good for photographing subjects that are wet or have skins like frogs and toads as it helps to reduce problems caused by contrast. If you are using flash as your main source of light then try and diffuse it by putting a diffuser on it, like a Sto-fen (, or bounce it onto the subject so it creates a softer light. Lighting can be an issue when working up close to a subject. If you are not keen on flash, like me, or don’t own a flashgun, then think about buying a fold-up reflector to throw light on your subject. These are purchased for about £20, or look up Ebay for even cheaper ones. They are light, fold flat and are very handy for those occasions when you need a little extra fill light. I use a set of Lastolite reflectors ( ones. They are a bit more expensive but are very good and light which means that they can be held with one hand. 

Blue TitBlue Tit

This image of a Blue Tit was taken at 5:30am. It is worth getting up early for the dawn light.

What settings should I use?

For photographing birds you’ll need a fairly fast shutter speed to prevent any blurring from of the subject due to movement. Therefore a shutter speed of at least 1/250th sec is needed. When photographing fast moving action then you should aim for 1/1000th sec or faster. Setting a wide aperture, such as f5.6, will give you enough depth of field for the subject but will blur the foreground and the background as long as you stick with the info I stated above when setting up your hide. If you set up your camera in aperture priority mode and increase the ISO setting to obtain the required shutter speed only the shutter speed will change if the light does. Setting up to shoot with the widest aperture setting of your lens helps generate the fastest shutter speed. To photograph mammals and get your images sharp with no noise then you need to learn how to hold your camera properly, mount it on a tripod or stabilise it some other way to prevent camera shake. By doing this you can reduce your ISO setting and get a sharp image using a very low shutter speed. With amphibians, some will remain very still so as long as your camera is supported properly you may be able to shoot with very low shutter speeds using natural light. Don’t forget your depth of field, the closer you are to the subject then the smaller your depth of field will be so you might have to change your aperture to f8 or f11. If you are using flash then change your settings to manual mode and set your shutter speed to your flash’s sync speed (look up this in your manual, It's that little book that came with your camera!!!!!). For insects then you will require a fast shutter speed, minimum of 1/250th sec and an aperture of f8 or more to get the depth of field. Remember no matter what wildlife you photograph you will need the eyes of the subject in sharp focus. Of course these settings are only a guide as your creativity will dictate which settings you choose. One big tip to save your knees when photographing amphibians is to purchase a kneeling mat. You can pick one up from your garden centre for about £5 and it will save your knees.

Building setups

Instead of taking images of birds on a feeder you should think about building your custom set-ups for specific images that you think of. Consider placing an aesthetically pleasing twig close to the feeder, to provide a perch for the birds. Position it between the feeder and a bush and the birds will come and settle on your branch before hopping on to the feeder, giving you a chance to make some excellent, natural looking, images. Once you’ve taken all the images you want on a particular twig you can simply change it for another to get a whole new set of images!

Using a custom set-up can be a great way of creating excellent wildlife images in your garden and is only governed by your creativity. By attracting wildlife into your set-ups that you have pre-visualised means that you can create stunning images that could be almost impossible in reality. If you work hard to create a mini garden studio and are patient then the image possibilities are truly endless!

My Garden SetupMy Garden Setup

This is an image of my garden set-up at my last address. The visitor is a hen pheasant. Every image in this blog was taken on this set-up area. The tree branch was on a garden bench. It had plastic underneath and soil around it. The two branches to the right were stuck into the ground and could be changed whenever I wanted to because I dug two drain pipes into the ground to make the change easier. You don't have to go to this extreme but it shows what can be done with a little imagination.


This image of a Squirrel was taken on the branch on the bench.

Once it is all set up and running don’t try and rush your wildlife photography. Relax and take your time, trust me it will happen. When it starts happening then you can experiment till your heart’s content.

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(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Attracting mammals to your garden Bournemouth station Build a water feature in your garden building a custom set-up Building a hide building a pond in your garden Dartmoor Devon Eating healthy excuses festive period genuine excuses half marathon Happy New Year how to entice wildlife to your garden lastolite reflectors mini garden studio motivation to lose weight New Year resolutions Photographing wildlife in your garden Planting wildflowers running in the New Forest Setting up a bird feeding station Sto-fen diffuser UK Wild flower mix waxwings What camera equipment do i need wildlife wildlife in your garden Wildlife photographer wildlife photography in your garden Sun, 13 Jan 2019 11:09:03 GMT
Red Squirrels in England, Jays, a Selfish Hobby, a Dartmoor Landscape photography project Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Last month I left off telling you that I had trawled through the internet and found a location to photograph Red Squirrels in England. Like I said I have been to the Isle of Wight and to Brownsea Island but never had much luck with photographing Red Squirrels mainly because I’ve never seen one for any length of time to actually press the shutter button. I know I could go on a workshop and tick this box but where is the pleasure in letting somebody else do half the work? It’s like taking an image and letting somebody else doing the post processing. I can understand going abroad on a photography workshop to photograph certain wildlife because we have not got that particular wildlife in this country but I get so much pleasure finding the wildlife, waiting for it to appear, photographing it and then doing the post processing that if I miss any part of the process I am not getting the full wildlife photography experience. I digress, the location was north of where I live, well let’s face it living down in Devon everywhere in England is north of where I live, apart from south Cornwall. Carrying out a lot of research about the area meant that I could take only the camera equipment I actually needed not everything I “might” have needed – I need to think about the weight I can carry in Isla. My wife wanted to go to a show in Harrogate, Yorkshire, so we could combine the two especially as it is getting near winter and the squirrels will be looking for food. I got Isla packed up with my camera equipment, clothes, food, drink and all the other necessities including all of my wife’s and Murphy’s bits and pieces. The camera equipment I took was 2 x DSLR’s, my new 100-400mm lens, 70-200mm lens, 1.4 converter, monopod, gimbal head, Linpix mat, and a few CF cards (keeping fingers crossed). I took my camouflaged clothing and I even went to our nature reserve and picked up some acorns filling a bag quite quickly. Some of the information I read on the internet stated that “monkey nuts in their shells” can be given to the squirrels but I prefer a more natural enticement especially in a photograph. There were oak trees where I was going so acorns were the natural choice. I checked the weather, dry and cloudy, and on Wednesday we set off. My wife’s show was on Sunday so I had 2 days to get lucky and see / photograph some wild Red squirrels. All the time I was driving up there I kept thinking, please be lucky, and keeping my fingers crossed. We arrived early, parked up, and I immediately saw a Red squirrel just behind Isla (sorry no pic of the big grin on my face). With warm weather gear on, camera in hand, nuts in pocket and in hand (don’t get smutty), mat clipped on belt and I was off. There were several squirrels running all over the show so I inputted the settings on my camera, but even with 800 ISO @ f5.6 I could only get 40th of a second which was a bit disappointing. I needed more light or the squirrels to stand still (no chance). I walked around the area and found a slightly lighter area but this only took the shutter speed up to 50th sec. After taking a few images, of blurred squirrels, I had a rethink. I wanted a better background, something for the squirrel to get in or on, the squirrel to stay still and for me to get on to the floor for a more intimate image, so I started looking for this criteria and if I could tick more of the boxes then I would be happier with the images I took. I did find some of the criteria but the biggest problem was slowing the squirrels down. I know I am good at reducing camera shake, by getting into certain positions. The image stabilization of the new Canon 100-400mm mkII is 4 stops so that helped as well. The way I got around it was to put the camera’s drive into high speed and took several shots at a time of the squirrels. As soon as I started shooting most kept doing what they were doing, one or two of the squirrels ran away, and then came back, but some of them stood still and looked to see what the “new” sound was, perfect.

Red SquirrelRed SquirrelRed Squirrel

Apart from going back to Isla for food I was with the squirrels all day, it was absolutely magic.

The second day I moved to a different position where there was a tree stump I could use as a prop. The dull light was still a problem but I persevered. During the day I met a few of the volunteers that look after the place. One of them informed me that there were about 200 or so red squirrels in the area but most of the time you saw none so I was quite lucky seeing about 10 throughout the 2 days. Another one tried to help me attract more squirrels by throwing a lot of sunflower seeds on the tree stump! I informed him that that was not natural looking so would ruin any images I took. I then had to spend the next half hour or so picking up this seed and throwing it elsewhere.

Red SquirrelRed SquirrelRed Squirrel

I had already used up 3 CF cards (the downside of taking several images at a time) and was down to my last card when I noticed that up to 4 Jays, a bird I have struggled to get a good image of in the past, were flying down and pinching some of the acorns. At times they were so close they were filling my viewing screen. This was too good an opportunity to miss so I started taking images of them.


Getting towards the end of the day a couple of women came and stood next to me watching the squirrels. Along with the Jays there were a couple of Magpies now in attendance. They were not interested in the acorns but were hoping for some other food, like the sunflower seeds. Whenever the birds landed the women would either clap or shout to scare them away. I asked them to stop as they were scaring the wildlife but they replied that they only like the squirrels. I replied that they were scaring the squirrels as well as the birds, but this flew over the top of their heads and they kept on doing it. It was a bit annoying as at one time I had just framed a beautiful shot of a magpie looking around the side of a tree only for it to fly off before I got the shot. As it was getting dark I packed up. I cannot understand some people at times.

The place was a really good place for red squirrels as long as they are in attendance and I will be back and hope for better light.

Just the other day I noticed that one of my Facebook friends, I’d love to meet and get to know him, was advertising his big wildlife photography lens for sale on Facebook. I asked him if he was giving up, he answered no but he does not get much time to do photography since moving to Devon. He still had a slightly smaller lens but with wildlife photography focal length is everything especially when photographing small birds. I can fully understand not having much time as wildlife photography is a very selfish hobby as well as time consuming. I’ve found that you cannot concentrate on doing it properly if you are with someone else. This is one of the reasons I do not take a camera with me when I’m tutoring on a workshop the other main one is that I want to give the person paying for the workshop my full attention. I’m one of these people that think that if you are paying for a tutor then he or she should not be using that workshop for their own photography as well. Other forms of photography can be done at any time, even landscape photography only takes time at dawn and dusk the rest of the time is yours. Yes I know you can use this other time to hunt out locations but you can do this with your wife, husband, partner, dog etc. you don’t have to do it by yourself. Whereas to get the best out of wildlife photography you have to be by yourself, waiting for the subject to appear, for sometimes very little reward. Most of my best Kingfisher images have been taken between 05:30hrs and 07:30hrs. I had to leave home at 03:30hrs because the location was just under 2 hours away and don’t forget I had to get up, have a wash and have breakfast before I left home and would not return until late in the afternoon. This meant that I would not be able to carry out any chores at home, leaving everything, including walking the dog, to my understanding wife.  I have also often been out in, or out of, my hide waiting for wildlife to appear and gone home after hours with nothing on my CF card. That’s why when you do see something and capture it, it’s a great feeling. Speaking and listening to, several professional wildlife photographers, they find this a problem because they are away from their family’s, working. You could say being in exotic places photographing wildlife is not working, but they have got to get different photographs of other wildlife for any chance of an image sale. The Facebook friend has also just got a beautiful dog, now you don’t have to tell me how much of your time a dog takes up. Again it’s no good taking a camera out with you to do wildlife photography if you have a dog with you. I’ve tried with my big lens and with my, recently purchased, zoom lens to no avail. We try to do as much as possible in our short lives but you still have to make choices. You’ll never know whether it’s the right choice or not but as long as you are happy with what you are doing then who can say different. I hope he does not give up wildlife photography completely as he is a very good photographer and I, amongst others, enjoy looking at his images.

The last four mornings I have been up and out on the moor before sunrise to get in position to take an image of a landscape, YES I did say landscape and four mornings, but I still did not take any images due to the weather, grey skies and misty rain meant no sunrise. Living on Dartmoor I thought about doing a landscape project where I photograph all the stone crosses on Dartmoor. According to several websites there are 132 stone crosses on Dartmoor. There were more but surprise, surprise, some have been stolen! This project will take a bit of time completing, especially if the light is not stepping forward, but I will keep you informed about my progress.

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


If you like my blogs then please sign and leave a comment on my Guestbook page and Subscribe by pressing the RSS button at the bottom left of the page.

Also available are Digital Photography Tuition Including Post Processing Workflow, Dartmoor Bird & Wildlife Workshops (Please see the Workshops Tab at the top of the website).

If you choose to stay at our B&B at the time of the workshop then you will receive a discount on your tuition and accommodation. 


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Brownsea Island camera equipment camouflaged clothing Canon 100-400mm mkii Dartmoor in Devon Dartmoor Wildlife Photography Devon Facebook Facebook friends gimbal head Happy New year image stabilization internet Isle of Wight landscape photography Linpix mat Living on Dartmoor Merry Christmas monopod nature reserve photograph Red Squirrels in England photography photography workshop post processing professional wildlife photographers Red Squirrels Red Squirrels in England reducing camera shake shutter speed stone crosses on Dartmoor wildlife photographers Wildlife Photography Wildlife Photography on Dartmoor in Devon workshop Wed, 19 Dec 2018 16:32:53 GMT
Learning from Photographers, Jen Bryant, Mark Sisson, Fieldfare, Redwings & Red Squirrels Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Well today, 10th November 2018, I went to Belstone craft fair. Belstone is a beautiful little village on north Dartmoor and just a short drive from my house. I often go to country shows and craft fairs because usually there is at least one photographer or artist displaying their work. One of the best ways of learning photography, after understanding everything about your camera and how it works, is looking, and I don’t mean just glancing I mean actually looking at, and studying other people’s images. See where your eye leads you through the image and you should go on a journey that the photographer wants you to follow to finally end at the desired focal point. Doing this in an image is one of the hardest things to learn in photography and it is down to composition. Basically it is placing shapes in an order that pleases the eye and a photographer does this to lead you through their image to a focal point of their choice. Wildlife photographers want you to look at the wildlife so one of the things they do in their image is they will have things like branches, walls, grass, stems, fences etc. leading you into the image and they will place the wildlife in a prominent position. This is called “leading lines” and is a rule of composition. (Please see my blogs, , , for more info). Landscape photographers will sometimes use the same rule to point to their chosen focal point. There are a lot more “rules” of composition and every photographer will use different rules for different images. You don’t have to stick to any rule of composition but they help when you are learning photography. So when you study, look at, other photographers work, work out of what they have done to lead you through their images to their chosen focal point. Another way to learn from landscape photographer’s images is that whilst looking at their images, see what they have done and then think what you want to do or could do with a similar image. It is no good just copying their image you have got to change it to make it your own work and enhance your creativity. When I say “change it” I don’t mean by using Photoshop I mean change the image you take in camera. Take it in different light, weather – snow, rain etc. include something else or exclude something, the world is your oyster and you can be as creative as you like.

“Moan alert”

When I am looking at photographs at a show I often hear people say a few things but 2 things they say really do bug me. They are both related and they boil down to the person commenting not appreciating the work that the photographer has had to do to get the image. The first is that they say “That’s a good / great / fantastic photograph, he / she, the photographer, must have a really good / expensive camera.” Yes the photographer might have a good or expensive camera but the bottom line is that the camera is a tool. I have yet to hear about a camera that can choose its own settings and take an image all by itself. Even trap cameras have to be setup before they take a picture. I’ve also never heard of a camera that will jump out of the camera bag, set itself up and take an image just because a good photo opportunity presents itself. The photographer has to be ready and learn to anticipate any action that’s going to happen and that takes time. The second thing I often hear is “That’s a good / great / fantastic image; you could take an image like that with your camera.” (This comment usually applies to landscape photographs). That person who is being spoken to might well be able to take an image like that but that image did not just happen. It might have taken the photographer days, weeks, months or even years to get that image. First of all the photographer had to see the image beforehand and this can be achieved in hundreds of ways. They might have seen the image in another photo, on TV, in a book, visited the area, driven by the area etc, etc, etc. Then they had to work out where to photograph the image from, don’t forget there might be up to 360 degrees to choose from and then how far away do they go, don’t forget how high above the ground do they go. Then they had to take their camera equipment to their chosen position and set it all up. Work out the settings, which lens to choose, the composition, and then the main one; wait for hours or even days for the right light to fall on the area. So yes anybody could take any landscape image because it is there all the time but they will have to do “ALL” the work before, during and afterwards – don’t forget the post processing that is involved nowadays if you take digital images. If you don’t put the work in you will not get the results. So the next time you are looking at someone else’s photographs think of the effort they have put in to achieve the image you are admiring.

OK moan over back on track now.

The person’s work I was admiring at Belstone was Jen Bryant of Jen Bryant photography, She lives in North Devon and it appears, by looking on her website, that she does most of her photography in the county of Devon which is not a bad thing. Devon has a lot to offer the landscape photographer and by concentrating on this county, which is both large and very beautiful, means that she can really work the area and find new landscapes to take images of rather than just the usual visitor haunts. Check out her website to really see what I mean. The other thing that is different about her photography is that she still shoots in film, read her “about” page to find out how she does this. Whilst speaking to her she said that she does not know much about the camera, she just takes her pictures in manual mode! Well if she does not know how to “work” the camera then how is she consistently taking such great images? You might be lucky once or twice but not all the time. Not just working the camera but also working in her darkroom at home creating the images – I think there is a little fib going on here. Give yourself a pat on the back Jen, your photography is really good. What do you readers think? You can leave a comment on my comment page, or click on this link

On Tuesday night I paid a visit to my old camera club at St Neots in Cambridgeshire for three reasons. The first is that I wanted to use my motorhome (Isla) again. The second was that I wanted to visit some old friends which I had not seen in a while and the third is that a great wildlife photographer, Mark Sisson (, was giving a presentation entitled “From Alaska to Argentina - wildlife through the Americas”. The journey from Tavistock to Huntington, our campsite, was trouble free and we had the campsite all to ourselves. The welcome I got from St Neots camera club was absolutely fantastic. I really do miss this club and if anybody in the Cambridgeshire / Bedfordshire area wants to join a really friendly camera club, that offers a warm welcome and knows what they are doing, then you would not go far wrong than by joining this one ( There were so many members that wanted to talk with me and say hello that the time before, during the break and after Mark’s presentation went really quick, so nice. Mark’s presentation was fantastic, not only did he show us some stunning photography also his narration was superb and he kept us all on the edge of our seats enjoying every spectacular image with a story of each one. One thing I was hoping for about this trip, after my bad year, is that it would give me a kick up the bum (it did more later on) and get my photography back up and running and it has. Mark showed us images of wild bears fishing for salmon whilst the photographer was in the same water, my dream. I spoke to Mark after his presentation and he gave me the details of his “workshops and photography holidays” ( I would look into this when I got home. As you know I would love to go on a “Bear” holiday but it all depends on how Murphy is getting on. He is getting on very well at the moment and has just started to walk without his harness. His back needs strengthening and I think the harness was holding him back. He’ll never walk “smoothly” again but it does not seem to bother him too much, but I digress. When I got home I looked at the website and I am hoping that I can go in 2020, fingers crossed.

Well it’s that time of year again yep, Fieldfare, Redwings and hopefully Waxwings. The kick up the bum is working, I have already seen lots of the first two and found a location where I can sit in my car, using it as a hide, and photograph them. I place camouflaged netting on the windscreen, the driver’s side window and the rear passengers (driver’s side) window. This hides my shape and darkens the inside of the car. I wear camo netting on my head and hands to darken the flesh shown and I sit in the front passenger’s seat with my camera lens poking out of the window all the time. If you don’t have the lens outside the window then as soon as you put the lens out you will scare the birds also by doing this you are ready for any action that might happen. At this location I have only seen a couple of Fieldfare but there are quite a few Redwings. I worked out, by using The Photographers Ephemeris (, the time of day I needed to be there so the light was right (if the sun appeared) and it was from 10:00hrs till about 14:00hrs. So for the last few days that’s where I have been, sat in my car waiting for the light. The birds have been there but the light has not, even though it has been dry and sunny. The location is about a mile from my house which is in bright sunshine but my location is higher and is covered by grey cloud! What is annoying is that I can see my house with the sun shining on it, I really don’t understand it. I have taken a few images but not with the light as I want it but I will persevere. Here are a couple of images I have taken.


The sun was just showing when I took this image of a Redwing but it disappeared within a few seconds afterwards.


This is one of the Fieldfare that was present for only a few minutes on day one. I never saw them again that week.

Whilst trawling through the internet the other day I have found a location to photograph Red Squirrels. I have been to the Isle of Wight and to Brownsea Island but never had much luck with photographing Red Squirrels mainly because I’ve never seen one for any length of time. The only Image of a Red Squirrel I’ve got is a “blob” in a tree I found in the Lake District. So next week I am going up north, no not Scotland but the north of England, in Isla and try to be lucky. I will report my findings and images, with luck, in next month’s blog.

If you like my blogs then please sign and leave a comment on my Guestbook page ( and Subscribe by pressing the RSS button at the bottom left of the page.

Also available are Digital Photography Tuition Including Post Processing Workflow, Dartmoor Bird & Wildlife Workshops (Please see the Workshops Tab at the top of the website).

If you choose to stay at our B&B ( at the time of the workshop then you will receive a discount on your tuition and accommodation. 



(Robin Stanbridge Photography) anticipate action Belstone camera equipment car hide composition Dartmoor Devon focal point Jen Bryant Jen Bryant photography Landscape photographers learning photography Mark Sisson Mark Sisson photography photographer post processing Red Squirrels Red Squirrels in England rule of composition St Neots camera club wildlife Wildlife photographer Thu, 29 Nov 2018 16:20:17 GMT
Retirement, Our Nature Reserve, Red Deer and My Ways of Getting Closer to the Wildlife Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Well the day has finally come, I have signed along the dotted line and on September 3rd, a day after my 60th birthday, I have retired. I could not retire on my birthday as this year it fell on a Sunday and I was informed by my job that I can only retire on a weekday. So even after working for them for nearly 40 years they still wanted more blood and I still had to go in for an extra day! Still it is done now and I look forward to a happy and relaxing time – NO CHANCE! Since I have retired I’ve been taking over the “chores” at home, gardening, cleaning, washing, cooking etc. I don’t know how you women cope with all of it, I still haven’t found out how you have the time to watch This Morning or even Loose Women!

Along with my retirement we have decided to buy a Motorhome which we will take possession of at the end of September. This purchase will give us the freedom to get up and go anywhere. I will be taking my camera with me most of the time so the slogan “Have camera, will travel” will be apt. Yes I know it should be gun but I would rather shoot wildlife with my camera than with a gun. I am really looking forward to going to some far off places and getting images of wildlife without having to rush back home because the holiday is ending or because I have to go back to work. Also along this line if the weather is bad we can either move to another place with better weather or wait it out because we don’t have to rush anywhere. The other good thing about this is that Murphy can come along with us and we won’t be worrying about how he is doing in the kennels. At the moment I am like a big kid waiting for their Birthday or Christmas present and I can’t wait to get it, so many plans in my head.

This year I was going to really concentrate on working on our nature reserve and carry out several jobs that required doing. One of them was clearing an area of bracken so that other smaller plants can grow up. I asked several of the Dartmoor farmers how they do it and all of them had different ideas about it but mainly all amounted to continually, for several years, bruising or cutting it to stop it growing. Some use rollers, some drag tyres, some iron bars etc. The only problem with me doing this is that I will crush the other plants as well as the bracken. Therefore I thought I would start pulling it up early on in the year as soon as it started growing. So in March I started doing just that and started pulling up the plants within that area. As the ground was wet it was quite easy albeit a bit painful for my back – the downside of being 6’ tall. After a few weeks the area was cleared of bracken. The second job was coppicing the far end of the wood on the reserve to let more light onto the floor of the wood. This job had to wait a few weeks as I did not get back to the reserve due to work and the bad weather. When I did I had to recommence pulling up the bracken as some plants had started growing again. I knew I would have to do this as I was not under the illusion that it would be as simple as that. I knew that this was going to take quite a few years to clear the area. Once it was clear again I went to the far end of the wood to select and mark the trees that I considered needed coppicing. This is when I discovered a really sad sight. In a previous blog I informed you that within our nature reserve I had an enormous majestic Beech tree. This tree was absolutely stunning, it was so big it ruled the roost and a Buzzard had nested in it the year before. When growing up the beech tree had split into two about 15’ above the ground and grew up from there. When I arrived the scene in front of me was of total devastation. Over the last few weeks we had a lot of snow and I can only assume that the snow had lain on the branches and was too heavy for them so the tree had broken off at this split. One side of the tree was still standing but the other was laid on the ground. The length of the fallen branches was about 60’ to 70’ long which is about the size of a normal tree. The width of the biggest branch was about 5’ in diameter and when it came down it took several other smaller trees with it. This solved a problem for me in deciding which trees to coppice as it had let in a lot of light in this area. The main trunk that is on the floor will remain in situation because it makes a great perch and cover for wildlife and because I do not have a chainsaw big enough to tackle it. This is the case for some of the branches coming off it. The smaller branches will be logged and taken home for next year’s fuel or will be stacked within the reserve for use by wildlife. I have already started stacking some of the bigger logs for wildlife but it is hard work mainly because they are on a slope of about 60 degrees and the ground is mainly made up of leaf litter. It is hard just standing on the ground working with a chainsaw let alone keeping piles of logs from rolling downhill but I will figure a way and clear the area before next spring. Once cleared, I will come here often with my camera as the lower branches, of the fallen tree, are perfect for birds and wildlife to perch and walk on, also I am hoping to see a nice bloom of Bluebells.

At the moment, on 20th October, I am about half way through. Whilst working in this area I have had constant companions, a buzzard family, which nested in another tree nearby with its young chick which I can let you know fledged successfully. I expect it is the same family which nested in the big Beech tree last year. Another regular visitor is a Roe deer which, although keeps its distance, is stays just in the shadow of the wood. The noise of the chainsaw does not seem to bother either of them; maybe they don’t see me as a threat which is just what I want. The work on this tree is taking up quite a bit of my spare time and the bracken is still growing but I will carry on with the bracken clear up early next year. The very thin branches are being stacked up to give some cover for wildlife. When it dries up it will reduce but wildlife; spiders, slugs, snails, frogs, mice etc. will use it before this happens. Several types of Fungi have already started growing on the fallen branchs. It is amazing how quickly nature populates a new resource.

My wildlife photography has nearly come to a standstill with just not enough hours in a day for me to do everything I want to do. I thought I would get more photography done when I retired but him upstairs thought otherwise. Therefore when we took possession of our motorhome we decided to head for Exmoor and spend a few days there trialling it out and watching the Red deer rut. I did not want to go to my usual place so we had a drive and a walk around and located a herd of about 60 deer. Within this herd there were several stags and hinds of all ages. We located a flat area where we could park, wild camp and watch the deer at the same time. That evening whilst eating our tea, tortellini pasta in tomato sauce, in our motorhome we were watching red deer on the hill through the window and were surrounded by 15 Exmoor ponies, several pheasants and a few Golden Plover, does life get any better? In the morning I could not go out and photograph the deer because a thick fog had come down during the night and it is easy to get lost in this weather. Sadly the fog lasted most of the day but the deer were still around because when I had taken Murphy out for a walk I could still hear them. The next day the fog was not quite as thick so as it was clearing, at about 10:00hrs, I went for a walk with my camera equipment. I did not know exactly where the herd was but I headed in a general direction of where I thought they could be and because I had been eating pasta and just sitting around I needed the exercise anyway. After walking for about a mile I entered a valley where I thought the deer could be and I was right (Stanbridge 1 Deer 0). I noticed the deer about 500 yards away and they were all sat in the sun in a grass field. Apart from some couch grass, about 250 yards away, there was absolutely no other cover (Stanbridge 1 Deer 1). I slowly inched my way closer to the herd on my hands and knees but had to stop several times because; with this many pairs of eyes, the hinds are very watchful, the herd would be off as soon as they spotted me. It took me a while but I finally got to the couch grass and then settled down hoping they would come to me. (Read further on about how to get closer to wildlife) At this time the light and wind direction was in my favour so I just relaxed, watched and waited. The main stag kept on getting up, strutting around and sniffing all the hinds to see which one was “ready” to mate. As it happens even if the hind is ready it is she who decides who she is going to mate with, not the stag. On other occasions I have watched hinds sneak off into a wood with another stag. I could only tell what happened when the music of the violins got louder and all the birds flew off as it used to happen in the old movies, nowadays you don’t have to use your imagination!

As the stag got closer to other stags they would get up and walk away from him. A couple of them got up and had a little shoving match but as soon as the main stag got near them they were off running away from him. During the couple of hours I was there the herd did move a bit but mainly from side to side keeping the same distance away from me. After this time the sun had moved around and was now to my left. I had to be a bit picky with my shots as the side lighting created shadows on the deer’s face which I did not like. I could not move around because my scent would have been caught in the wind and the deer would have been off. They chose this spot for some reason; food, warmth, safety etc. and I did not want to disturb them just for a photo. So after a few hours I decided to withdraw quietly and leave them to it.

Red Deer Stag & HindRed Deer Stag & Hind

My Ways of Getting Closer to Wildlife

One of the most often questions wildlife photographers get asked is “How do you get close enough to get the subject big enough in the image and get a good photograph”? Well I use four different ways, apart from lens choice, to achieve this but before I do any of them I find out about the subject I am after. It is no good just turning up and hoping it will be there, you have got to be extremely lucky for this to happen.

The first thing I do is find out if the terrain suits the wildlife. It is no good going to a desert to look for squirrels!

The second is I find out if the wildlife has been seen in the area and where it was seen. You could look on the internet for some help with this or you could ask the local people. The latter is a bit hit and miss because some people might not tell the truth or they might exaggerate the truth – they’ve seen hundreds of deer when in fact they have only seen 4 (I know it is easy to do this because I used to go sea fishing and the fish that got away were always the big ones!, The annoying thing was they were big!). They might also tell you a lie to keep you away from the wildlife because they want to take photos of the wildlife. The thing is to keep an open mind or know the person you are talking to. Wildlife photography workshops help with this because you are letting the professional wildlife photographer do most of this work.

The third is to roam the area and look for clues, but remember to ask the land owners permission before you do this. By asking the land owners permission could be good because he / she might point you in the direction of the wildlife you are after (then again remember point 2). This I find is better than talking to lots of people. Then again he / she might not want you on their land for some reason or another, it’s their choice.

The fourth, and I think most important, is that when you do find the wildlife you are after, observe it / them for quite a while if you can. See what they do, where they go, what actions they do before they do something else. Doing this will give you information and know when to anticipate an action to get a really good image. A lot of wildlife carry out similar patterns, walking the same routes, be in an area at the same time of day, do an action before they do another action. This gives you a lot of information about the creative side of wildlife photography. By doing this you will know where you need to be for the right light, background, lens choice, f-stop choice etc.

Once this is all done then I will choose the one of four methods I use to get closer to the wildlife.

The first way to get closer is to find out how used to humans it is or they are. If you are after ducks at a park in town then they will be used to humans milling around so you could wear just your normal clothes and act normally. If you wear camouflaged clothing and started stalking the ducks then they would notice that something different is going on and possibly fly off. This is the same as deer in a park in the middle of a city. Another way for this type of getting closer for wildlife photography is to use your car as a hide because they might be used to traffic but not to the human shape. Don't chase the wildlife, just park up and wait for the wildlife to come to you.

The second is if the wildlife is not used to humans then you should resort to wearing camouflaged clothing or dull coloured clothing, lots of green or brown colours, to blend in with the countryside that surrounds the wildlife. Remember your face, your hands and your big white lens need cover as well. You should then look at the area that surrounds the wildlife and plan a route to get closer using the landscape; hedges, trees, ditches etc. all help to cover your shape and approach to the wildlife. Biggest thing to remember is wind direction because you might not be seen but you will be smelt so keep down wind of the wildlife. To help with this always keep the wind blowing in your face, getting on your hands and knees will keep your scent lower to the ground. Getting closer can take time but don't rush as the movement will be seen by the wildlife.

The third is used if the wildlife are really scared of humans. It is using a hide and the fourth point above helps with the positioning of this. Remember the background and the direction of light at the time of day you will be using the hide.

The fourth is only used either at night time or if I want to see if the wildlife is still using the area, it is using a camera trap. Do not bait the trap, especially in winter, because you are forcing wildlife to that area for your food and once you stop baiting, because you have your photo, the wildlife will have to expend energy and look elsewhere to find it, whereas, if there is food already in the area then they won’t have to go looking for it elsewhere. So try and use a camera trap where there is already food for the wildlife.





(Robin Stanbridge Photography) bracken camouflaged clothing Dartmoor Dartmoor farmers Devon Devon" Exmoor Exmoor ponies Getting closer to Wildlife Golden Plover Nature reserve Photographer Red deer rut Red deer stag Retirement stag Wildlife Wildlife Photographer Dartmoor Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon Wildlife Photography Sat, 03 Nov 2018 12:45:03 GMT
SPECIAL BLOG - Johnny Kingdom Johnny Kingdom

23/02/1939 - 06/09/2018


Johnny Kingdom

Johnny Kingdom lived in Devon, England, and loved Exmoor National Park. I did not know Johnny personally but I thought he was a great personality and admired him a lot. I watched all of his TV programs, read all of his books and listened to his speeches at several shows. As a poacher turned wildlife cameraman he had the skills and knowhow to get close to wildlife and I'm glad he used those skills to photograph wildlife. It appears that he was a rogue and a scallywag in his younger days but as a wildlife presenter he came across as a real down to earth man. His passion and infectious enthusiasm for wildlife, and photographing it, came from the heart. Whenever he was on TV presenting a wildlife program I, like many others, would be glued to the set as he seemed he could be your friend rather than being aloof like some of the other presenters. I loved the way he presented the shows, in a relaxed sort of way, telling things as is, with his cheeky laugh. I also loved listening to what he got up to trying different ways to photograph wildlife, talk about a creative mind. It is incredibly sad that Johnny's life ended so soon but even though he may be gone, his memory will live on in all the wildlife shows. The wildlife presenting / photographing world will be a sadder place without him. My thoughts are with his family. RIP Johnny.


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Devon Exmoor Exmoor National Park Johnny Johnny Kingdom Kingdom presenter wildlife wildlife cameraman Tue, 11 Sep 2018 16:11:01 GMT
Life, Photography plans, Sitting on a pile of poo and Are we too clean with our Gardens? Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Well I hope you have been making the most of this fantastic weather we have been having. It does not make sense to me after eight months of nearly constant rain we now have had only two days rain in over four months. Still I am glad of it as it makes taking Murphy out for his walks easier.

Life is a funny old game and it throws things at you when you least expect it. You plan things that you want to do then life throws something at you and forces you to change your plans. Wildlife photography is a bit like that, you plan things and then you have to change them due to things out of your control. This year I had planned to get images of mainly two birds, a juvenile Dipper and a Cuckoo. The year started well because I knew of two Dipper nest sites and both areas were good for photography with the light coming from a good direction (depending on the time of day of course), I could get low to the surface of the water, it was off the beaten track so not many people around and I could hide, or blend in, well but be close enough to get a good image. I had sorted out those areas by late February and would be back now and then to check their progress. I would be back to film them later on in the year.

I spotted my first Cuckoo of the year on April 19th as it flew over my car bonnet. I’m glad I was just “pootering” along looking for wildlife at about 10 to 15mph otherwise it might have been a dead Cuckoo and I would not have wanted that. It is the closest I have ever been to a Cuckoo and this happened not far from my house. I often “pooter”, drive around slowly, looking for wildlife when I have the time. I have to keep my wits about me, be aware of other traffic and pull over when a vehicle comes up behind me. The very next day I saw and heard a Cuckoo in another area of the moor, whilst out walking Murphy, and that made my mind up that this was the area I was going to concentrate on to get my Cuckoo images. After viewing the Cuckoo several times last year I already knew where I was going to site my hide.

So the juvenile Dipper and the Cuckoo image attempts were already a year in the making. I know what you might be thinking. I could go to hire somebody else’s hide and get an image without all this work. But to me that would not be right, please don’t get me wrong these kind of hides have their place in wildlife photography for people who don’t have the time to find the wildlife, but I feel you are missing out and I want to experience the whole process of finding the wildlife, getting close to it and finally getting a good image of it. If you use somebodies else’s hide you have missed out on two thirds of the whole experience. Plus the image you take will be very similar to everybody else’s that has hired that hide. It’s a bit like landscape photographers that see a good image in a magazine and want to stick their tripod in the same three holes and use the same lens for them to get the same image! Doing things for yourself lets you, be the creative one not other people, we are not sheep! Also you will only improve your photography by learning and being creative not copying other people’s work.

I returned to my Cuckoo area that evening and placed a sheet of camouflage netting just in front of the area I wanted to site my hide. I did this so that I would leave it in place to let the Cuckoo get used to it. It was in an area, between two gorse bushes, away from a track that people walk so I was hoping that it would not be seen and go “walkies”. If it did then it was only a small sheet of camouflage rather than leave my hide and that goes “walkies”. So sad that people can’t leave other people’s property alone. For the next couple of weekends I returned to the area, replaced the camouflage with my hide and sat in it for a few hours. On several occasions the Cuckoo, accompanied with two Meadow Pipits or a Chaffinch, would land in the large bush that my camera was looking at. The bird was close enough for a reasonable image but apart from facing away from me it always landed with twigs or leaves blocking its head which made it impossible to focus on its eye.



Images like these are disappointing for me but they show that wildlife photography and getting a good image is not easy. Never mind I will persevere and be back in the same spot next year.

One time it was in the bush with the Meadow Pipit blocking its head and on another time it was the Chaffinch! I stayed in the hide for about four to five hours at a time, from about 05:30hrs till 10:00hrs or 11:00hrs. I would leave then replacing my hide with the camouflaged sheet. On the way back home I would check on the Dippers. I said I did this on the next couple of weekends but then my plans had to be change due to things that life threw at me. Since then I have not been back apart from collecting my sheet of camouflage.

Due to the same problems I have not been able to photograph the Dippers either so this plan will have to wait for another year.

For the last two years I have watched Wheatears nest in a barn on Dartmoor quite close to where I live. So today, 17th June 2018, I am sat outside the barn waiting to photograph the birds. In fact I am sat in amongst a few granite boulders on the moor that are surrounded by “poo”! There is poo everywhere, sheep’s, horses and cows, you name the animal and it seems that it has pooed here. I never mentioned that wildlife photography can be let’s say “different” than other types of photography (unless you are a poo photographer! The world is a strange place and I bet there is someone out there that specialises in it). My leggings are already covered in the stuff and I’m not even going to describe the smell. The poo might be the reason that the birds have nested here previously because it attracts the flies and insects in other words food. As long as I get a good image I will be happy. In fact I will be as happy as a pig in….. you know the rest. There is only one slight problem in me getting a good image and that is, I have been here for over an hour now and have not seen the Wheatears at all which is unusual. This bothers me because as I have said they have nested here for the last two years, I hope nothing has happened to them. Near the end of the second hour I have decided to pack up and go home as the Wheatears have not shown up. For the next two weeks I have visited this area to walk Murphy (The walk is only a few hundred yards and he is doing really well) and to see if the Wheatears have returned but up to this date they have not. I only hope they have nested elsewhere and nothing has happened to them.

Changing photography plans because of what happens or does not happen is not a new thing. About eight years ago, whilst living on the Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire border I was invited by a friend to a nature reserve his “club” had made. He informed me that the club had put together four hides and a wildlife pond in an area away from the public. He showed me a few of his images which were quite good especially one of a Jay on a branch drinking out of the pond. (As you know I am still after a really good image of a Jay) He asked me if I had a couple of chairs for us to use. I told him that I only had a couple of small aluminium fold out chairs, with cotton seats, that I used when I used to go beach fishing. I had not used them for a few years but would bring them along. He drove me to this “secret” place and then we had to walk for about a mile before entering a wood.  Then we had to delve into the bushes to find the hides. When we finally arrived there was a small pond, with a branch sticking in it, surrounded by four hides. I call them hides; in fact they were four double tea chests with a hole cut out of the front. Two of the roofs had guttering which fed a couple of water barrels which in turn could top up the pond. The branch going into the pond could be changed and there were several others around. It appeared to be a very good setup. Although the hides were double tea chests there was only enough space for one person including their equipment inside each hide. Therefore I took one hide and my friend another. I gave him one of my chairs; we entered the hides and started setting up. My first problem was that the hide was only about 4 feet, 120cm, high. Me being 6 feet, 180cm, in height meant that I had to enter on my knees. There was not enough room for my tripod so I had to use a monopod. I opened my chair, sat down, and settled to wait for the wildlife to appear. It was not very comfortable as the chair was quite low down and my knees were around my ears (not a pretty sight). Every time I moved I would touch the front or back of the hide. I folded my coat to use as a cushion to sit on but then my head would touch the roof! I tried to stay still for as long as I could but, being uncomfortable, it was hard work. After about 15 minutes a Sparrowhawk landed on the branch and was going to have a drink when all hell broke loose. As I was slowly moving my camera to focus on the bird I heard a loud yell from the hide my friend was in. I turned to face his hide when I fell to the ground falling backwards and out of the hide. I was on my back looking up at the sky seeing the Sparrowhawk fly off. I got up and noticed that the cotton seat had torn and as I fell backwards the aluminium chair legs had buckled. I looked over to the other hide and noticed that my friend was outside on his hands and knees with my other chair still attached to his backside. He started cussing and blinding at me and was moaning about the chair. Apparently both chair seats had torn at the same time because the cotton was rotten due to me using it near the sea. (Before you say it, it was not because we are both FAT!) We tried to stay on our knees in the hide but it was too uncomfortable and we were moving all the time so the wildlife did not appear therefore we gave up and went home. I never did return to that “secret” place 1, because my friend did not ask me again and 2, because I could not find it again.

Finally for this blog I just want to ask, “Are we too clean with our gardens?” What I mean is that usually my wife and I go round our garden tidying and picking every weed we see to let our flowers grow up but is this being too clean and taking away food from wildlife. This year, due to my wife, Murphy and I having health problems, we have had to leave most of the garden to its own devices. Yes it looks overgrown due to the little bit of rain and a lot of sunshine we have had, and a bit messy, but the amount of insects and birds has easily tripled in number. We have got so many nests around the garden, including 3 x Blackbird, 2 x Wren, 4 x Robin, 1 x Collard Dove, 1 x Pidgeon, 1 x song Thrush, ? x Sparrow, ? x Chaffinch, 1 x Pied Wagtail, 1 x Great Tit, 1 x Blue Tit, 1 x Long Tailed Tit, 1 x Bullfinch and maybe a few more that I have not found, it’s great. Just outside our lounge window we have a low, 3 feet high, wall with several plants as our lawn border. Because we have not weeded it, it is visited by Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Wrens, Bullfinches (male & female), Goldcrests, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Willow Warblers and several other birds that I only catch a glimpse of. I can just sit in my armchair and let the wildlife come to me. They often stay quite a while either looking for insects to eat or picking out the buds or seeds as in the case of the Bullfinch and Goldfinch.


This is an image of the Bullfinch through our lounge window, shame that the double glazed windows don’t open wide enough which meant that I got white borders on the image.

As stated above it is not just birds that are numerous in our garden there is also a tremendous amount of butterflies, moths and other insects. We have a Buddleia 'Lochinch' or as people call it a butterfly bush. The plant is called a Lochinch because it is an old hybrid cultivar raised from a seedling that was located in the garden of the Earl of Stair at Lochinch Castle, in the mild west coast of Scotland. At the moment, 14th July, it is covered with all sorts of different butterflies, moths and bees. It is about 12’ high and about 10’ wide with loads of flowers and there appears to be a butterfly or two on every flower. This is the same area that I usually have my bird feeders but this year I have stopped feeding them through the summer. There are several types including Commas, Peacocks, Painted Lady’s, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells, Large Whites, Small Whites, brown ones and light blue ones (sorry, I am ignorant of these butterfly names. I looked them up in a book and online but they all look the same). We even had a fleeting visit by a Dark Green Fritillary. There was a Comma butterfly and it must have been in a bit of a mood. All the other butterflies were going about doing what they do on the flowers but this individual kept on chasing away all the butterflies that came too close. I sat in my garden and watched their shenanigans for about half an hour with Murphy asleep by my side and I must say it brought cheer and peace to my thoughts and I found it very relaxing. They were not just on the Buddleia, they were also on a lot of the weeds and nettles within the rest of the garden. Whilst watching these insects on the Buddleia I had several visits by a Spotted Flycatcher that would land in the tree next to the bush. It would then fly up or out, catch an insect, and then return to the same position. It would stay for a few minutes and then fly off to return later.

A week later I sat again for about an hour having a rest watching the butterflies. This time I identified the brown butterfly as a Meadow Brown but the light blues still remain a mystery ( Andy Brown I need your expertise ). The Dark Green Fritillary was in attendance the whole time I was watching. I tried to photograph it but it would never settle for long enough. There was another butterfly, in fact a few of them, which turned out to be Brimstones.

Our field behind our house is in the same state. Because our horse died earlier this year we have let the vegetation grow up and the amount of Butterflies, Dragonflies, Damselflies, Moths and other insects is amazing. Maybe we should all leave part of our gardens alone and let the weeds grow to encourage wildlife. We moan about farmers not doing their bit for wildlife and we forget that we could do our little bit. So pick an area in your garden and leave it alone, let the weeds grow and seed and watch your wildlife grow. You might not like the view of the weeds but the amount of extra wildlife you will see far outweighs this. Plus on the other hand it will save you a bit of hard work weeding and maybe money because you don’t have to keep buying weed killer! I will certainly be doing this in the future.


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) being creative butterflies camouflage netting comma butterfly cuckoo dark green fritillary Earl of Stair fantastic weather food for wildlife gardens improve your photography juvenile dipper learning Life Lochinch lochinch castle painted lady butterfly photography hide photography plans Scotland weather wheatears wildlife Wildlife photography Sat, 01 Sep 2018 11:08:07 GMT
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 [email protected] 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
The Art of Flying Buzzards, Out and About Spotting Wildlife and a New Venture Ahead Ever since I was a kid, yes I can just about remember, I have been interested in flight. It amazes me how anything, especially an aircraft, can take off and fly. Flying is not as awesome as it used to be though. I used to get on the plane at the airport and really look forward to the take off. We would taxi to the end of the runway and the engines would start screaming away just before the pilot let the brakes off. At that moment you would be flung into your seat as the speed built up, the nose lifted off the ground and you would break away from the earth’s gravity. I remember that there always used to be a little “wiggle” from the plane at this point as if the earth did not want to let it go. Once we were in the air though the excitement was over. This was the boring bit of the flight where you eat a meal, had a drink, watched a movie, yes there was only one then no choice, and tried to sleep with all the kids screaming that they were bored (are we there yet dad?) and all the babies crying. (How come I always sat in front of the kid that constantly kicked my chair!!!) If we were lucky we would get some air turbulence which would shake the plane and make the seatbelt signs light up. The kids and babies would stop their noise, but now it was the turn of the women to scream get out their beads and start praying. The men would look around with smug faces and a little grin but with a warm wet feeling, thank goodness the tray was down and the trousers were quick drying. All this led to the finale, the landing. The pilot would tell us what was going to happen and we had to put the seats upright and put on the seatbelts. I would look out of the window and see all the little cars and lorries getting bigger and bigger. People would be thinking would there be a problem with the landing gear as we heard it, grinding away, being lowered and locked into position. How many times would we bounce? Would the wings break as they flapped when we touched the ground? Will the breaks fail and we will overshoot the runway? The answer to these and several more questions was no and once we were outside the terminal and the engines switched off people used to clap and thank him upstairs, no not the pilot further upstairs. Most of that has gone nowadays, the take-off is really smooth and boring (maybe it’s to do with the inertial dampers or is that just Star Trek!) and the landing is just as smooth, yawn. The middle bit still has everyone screaming at one time or another so still no sleep. I bet you are wondering why I am writing about this in a wildlife photography blog well, I am sat on a Tor on Dartmoor in Devon, England with my dog sat next to me and for the last thirty minutes I have been watching two Buzzards hunting the valley below. Their proper name is the Common Buzzard or Eurasian Buzzard and the Latin name is Buteo buteo. These birds of prey were nearly hunted out of existence by gamekeepers protecting their Pheasants and in the early 1900’s there were just 1000 birds left. Now, because of protection they are the most commonest and most widespread bird of prey in the UK. Lets hope Natural England ( on themselves giving licences to some gamekeepers to kill buzzards (but don't hold your breath). There are believed to be between 57,000 and 79,000 pairs in the UK according to the RSPB ). They look quite large, until you see them next to a Golden Eagle, with broad, rounded wings, and a short neck and tail. They eat small mammals, other birds and carrion but they can even eat earthworms and large insects when other prey is in short supply. I notice this occurrence nearly every time I go to a certain place on the moor. About one hundred metres from the carpark there is quite an open space and on most occasions there are either one or two buzzards scratching around eating insects or earthworms. If you see a bird of prey on a fence post or a telegraph pole then it will usually be a buzzard. Buzzards can vary in colour from dark brown all over to much paler variations with large patches of white but all have dark wingtips and a finely barred tail. You would not think the two I am watching are from the same family. One is brown all over apart from a white “V” on its chest and the other is nearly all white with a few brown patches here and there. I love the sound they make, which is a kind of “pewing” similar to a cat meowing, to each other. When flying they flap their wings a couple of times and then glide and it looks effortless. What surprises me is that they can stop in mid-air and hover just like Kestrels do. Flight, it still amazes me.


On Saturday night my wife and I took our dog for a walk on an area of moorland next to the golf course. When we got there the sky was full of birds, House Martins and Swallows mainly but lots of other birds were on the ground including Wrens, Chaffinches, several Tit species, Robins, Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers, Skylarks, Crows and Jackdaws. I wondered what was going on until one of the things they were after landed on my windscreen, a flying ant. I got out of the car and there were flying ants everywhere. My wife, who was wearing shorts, refused to get out of the car because of the ants and so we had to go elsewhere to walk Murphy!!!

I was out with Murphy this bright sunny morning watching a group of 6 yellowhammers. They were situated in and around a large gorse bush flying down to the ground in amongst the bracken. The yellow feathers really stood out against the green of the vegetation and would have made a wonderful image. I carried on with my walk but after only taking a few more steps I was presented with two wrens hunting on a rather open gorse bush, just what I was after, image wise, a couple of weeks ago. One was a juvenile wren and it got quite close until the adult gave a warning and it flew deeper into the bush where I could hear it but not see it. Walking on I saw the usual meadow pipits, Linnets, skylarks, swallows and Mistle Thrush but walking back to the car I spotted a bird that I don’t usually see in this area. At first glance I thought it was a robin but as I got nearer I could see it was a male Bullfinch.

Male BullfinchMale Bullfinch

 The colours of these birds are really outstanding and appear to change with the light from bright pink through to deep orange. When I see the male bullfinch I usually see the female bullfinch which is quite drab in colour compared to the male but just as nice to see. No matter how hard I looked I could not see her.

Female BullfinchFemale Bullfinch

Next week I have got some sad news and some exciting news about my new venture in wildlife photography.  

If you enjoy reading my wildlife photography blogs and wish to be notified each time they are published then please click on the RSS link below and subscribe - it is free or visit and LIKE my Facebook Photography page Also please leave a comment telling me what you think by clicking on the link above or below this blog thank you very much.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Bullfinch Buteo buteo Buzzards Buzzards hunting Chaffinches Common Buzzard Crows Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon England Devon England Eurasian Buzzard Facebook Photography page Golden Eagle House Martins Jackdaws Kestrels Linnets Meadow Pipits Mistle Thrush Natural England Pheasants RSPB Robins Skylarks Swallows Thrush Tit Tor Wrens Yellowhammers ants area bird bird of prey bird of prey in th UK birds birds of prey blog bullfinch buzzards earthworms female bullfinch flying ant flying ants insects juvenile wren male Bullfinch male bullfinch meadow pipits moorland photography photography blog prey robin skylarks swallows wildlife wildlife photography wildlife photography blog wren wrens yellowhammers Fri, 12 Aug 2016 10:40:21 GMT
Tricks of Your Mind and Wildlife on Dartmoor and on the River Tavy in Holiday Season The other day, about half past nine at night, I was driving back home from the moor. I had been taking my dog out for his last walk before bedtime. The light was fading fast when I was passing a gated entrance to a field and I thought I noticed an Owl on the ground looking at me through the gate. I stopped quickly but silently to watch what appeared to be an owl and to see what it did. My dog was also watching the owl which was just staring at us. It looked like a Tawny owl but there was a patch of grass just in front of it so it was a bit difficult to make out properly. I was wondering if it had caught any prey and if it did what it was. After about twenty minutes I started to wonder if there was something wrong as the owl had not moved and it was getting darker. I made sure the car interior light was switched off and then opened the door, it did not move. I got out of the car which was about thirty meters away, it did not move. I walked towards it getting to twenty meters away, it did not move. I got about ten meters away, it did not move. I moved a bit closer and then realised that the "owl" was a brown paper bag! The bag was stood up with the bottom of the bag uppermost causing the illusion that it had ears and it had dark patches on the front giving the illusion of it having eyes. I smiled to myself thinking what an idiot. But it is amazing how many times your eyes deceive you into thinking you are seeing something when it is something else. A couple of months ago whilst sitting by the river Tamar in Devon waiting to photograph Otters I convinced myself that I could see an otter swimming in the river when it turned out to be a branch. On another occasion whilst sitting very low on the edge of a field waiting to photograph hares I thought I saw a Fox running through the long grass and was amazed when it took flight. It turned out to be a Kestrel. These illusions could be down to tiredness, the light conditions or just hoping to see a certain subject.

On Friday afternoon, as it was hot and sunny on Dartmoor I decided to take my dog out for a walk in an area by the river Dart where I was taking photos of Dippers earlier in the year. I had not revisited the area for a while so I wanted to see what was about. At this time of year the area is normally full of people on holiday and Friday was no exception. Due to the amount of people in the area when I arrived, I did not expect to see much wildlife but I was going to be proved wrong. As Murphy, my dog, was really excited, because he had not been here for a while, I decided to stay and have a look. The car park was full but most of the holiday makers were either inside the café or on their outside tables enjoying the drinks and food provided. As I was walking past people were coming out of the café walking to the tables. Why, when people do this, they seem to waft the food on their trays under your nose? Is it just me or does it happen to others, either way it did smell good. Passing through the gate to get on the moor was like passing into another world, the place was deserted. After I'd stepped out from under the trees I looked up and above me doing their dance were about a hundred House Martins. They are not as colourful as Swallows but just as acrobatic. They were swooping down skimming over the green bracken catching the flies that were disturbed by their presence before returning to the air. I stood and watched their aerobatics for a few minutes before continuing my walk. I went over by the river and immediately saw a Grey Wagtail flitting from boulder to boulder catching flies in between.

Grey WagtailGrey Wagtail

After Murphy had finished his “swim” I carried on walking deeper into the valley. A Robin was tick ticking its anger as I got closer to it before it flew off onto the next bush.


Upon landing it disturbed a Willow Warbler that was deep inside the bush making it move on top of the bush and easier for me to notice it. I walked past and although the Robin was still angry the Willow Warbler didn't seem to take much notice.

Willow WarblerWillow Warbler

Stonechats were here and there on top of the gorse bushes sounding their alarm calls until I had walked past. The biggest thrill of the walk was waiting for me at the end of the valley. I noticed there were several birds perched under the trees, flying out catching flies and returning to their perch under the trees. I viewed them with my binoculars and they turned out to be Spotted Flycatchers, there were eight in all. I knew this area held Pied Flycatchers but spotted flycatchers was new to me. After viewing them for a few minutes I returned to my car really chuffed with my decision that I had carried on with my walk.

Due to the amount of work at work and at home I have not been able to get to my nature reserve for a couple of weeks. So on Saturday I decided to go there to see what's about. On my journey there I spotted a rather small female Sparrowhawk perched on a gate looking out over a field. When I say small it was about the size of an adult male sparrowhawk. It flew off just before my car drove past the gate. After entering my nature reserve I noticed a Roe deer about half way along the edge of the field next to the wood. I feel that roe deer are delicate and pretty compared to the big brash Red deer that we also get around here. It noticed me straight away but did not move. Roe deer have exceptional hearing and it takes a wildlife photographer with really good field craft skills to sneak up on one. Your other choice, my preferred method, to get close enough to it is to recon the area, see where they constantly attend, get there early and wait for them to come to you. I prefer this method because they seem less nervous in images or, it might just be me. I carried walking across the field, into the wood and down to the river Tavy. Because of the lack of rain and the amount of sunshine we have had in Dartmoor the river Tavy was very low, even in our deep pools. Next weekend I'll come down and cut the overhanging branches. I have wanted to do this job for a while but don't possess waders but the river is so low I can do it in wellies. I examined the little sand/mud bar we have on our side of the river and it was covered in Otter prints. There is a hole in the side of the river which goes back a couple of metres under some tree roots. My dog’s hackles always go up when he sniffs it. It is big enough for an otter to enter and I wonder if an otter uses it now and then just to get a kip. On the way back up through the wood I could smell where a fox had gone through and saw a Buzzard land on their usual perch on the big beech tree. I still don't understand Natural England giving licences to gamekeepers to shoot these wonderful birds of prey so they can keep Pheasants for them to shoot!!! I checked the Badger holes and all appeared ok so continued on to the top of the wood and noticed that the roe deer was still there watching me so I left the nature reserve as quietly as I could.


So another weekend goes by with no wildlife photography but I was happy because of viewing so much wildlife within the holiday period.

If you enjoy reading my wildlife photography blogs and wish to be notified each time they are published then please click on the RSS link below and subscribe - it is free or visit and LIKE my Facebook Photography page Also please leave a comment telling me what you think by clicking on the link above or below this blog thank you very much.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Badger Buzzard Dartmoor Devon Dippers Fox Grey Wagtail House Martins Kestrel Natural England Otter prints Otters Owl. Pheasants Pied Flycatchers Red deer Robin Roe deer Sparrowhawk Spotted Flycatchers Stonechats Swallows Tawny owl Wagtail Willow Warbler adult male sparrowhawk birds of prey deer female Sparrowhawk field craft field craft skills fox hares light conditions nature reserve otter otter swimming in the river owl photograph photographer photography river river Dart river Tamar river Tavy roe deer sitting by the river Tamar in Devon sparrowhawk spotted flycatchers taking photos of Dippers wildlife wildlife photographer wildlife photography Fri, 05 Aug 2016 19:20:19 GMT
Photographing Wrens on Dartmoor, Wildlife Photography Tips for my Blogs & Trevor Beer MBE Last weekend I spent about six hours, three on Friday and the same on Saturday, out on Dartmoor in Devon trying to photograph Wrens. I already have, I believe, some good photos of wrens but you can never have enough. The weather was bright but cloudy on Friday and Saturday morning, just how I like it. In the early part of the year, April and May, wrens would be singing on top of bushes or small trees and if they were inside the bush you could still see them because of the lack of leaf cover. But this time of year there appears to be too much cover and they very rarely appear on top of the bushes. The bushes I was hoping to get them on were flowerless gorse bushes as the green and brown spines and the lichen make quite a nice image especially if branches surround the bird making a frame around it. I went out early and sat in amongst some bushes waiting for the birds to come to me, which they soon did. On a couple of occasions a wren would be singing in the bush I was sat next to but I still could not see it. In fact at one stage it was so close and its singing was so loud that it was really hurting my ears (I must remember my ear defenders next time). For the size of the bird it really bellows out its wonderful “drilling” song.


On previous occasions when I have been photographing wrens singing I have noticed, in my images, that they close their eyes when they bellow out the very high notes which seem to emphasise the effort they put into their song.


Other places I have lived there seemed to be very few wrens, but Dartmoor seems to have an abundance of them which is great. The effort I put in to photograph these birds was to no avail because I did not take one image over the two days.

My wife phoned me up at work on Thursday afternoon informing me that there were four or five juvenile wrens on our front steps being fed by their parents. By the time I finished work and got home they had gone. B****Y work getting in the way again!!!

I do quite a bit of research to write these wildlife photography tips in my blog, from reading, magazines and books and on the internet, to watching TV, honestly its work but enjoyable work. Most of the photography information I write is from my own knowledge and experience but at times I still check to confirm the information is up to date and correct. But I look for other related information and ideas to give me inspiration that I can write about which I feel that every true wildlife photographer should take an interest in. Just recently I was visiting National Trust properties not far from my home address. A lot of these properties have second hand book shops and at times are a treasure trove for people that, like me, like reading old books. My wife visits the main National Trust gift shop whilst I browse the book shop. On this occasion I found and bought a book titled "Nature Watch". This book was written by Trevor Beer MBE who is an Author, Wildlife artist, Naturalist and a Columnist who writes a very popular wildlife and countryside column in the Devon paper, Western Morning News. I've written down that he is an MBE but he has a string of letters, all nature related, after his name which would take up the rest of this Blog. He won, in 1979, the Gavin Maxwell Award for the conservation of Otters in the wild and the David Bellamy Award for conservation given by the British Naturalist's Association in 2001. He was also elected Wildlife Champion for North Devon Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 2005. He has written numerous books and tourist guides, is a leading authority on big cats in Britain and has healed thousands of animals and wild birds. My only fault with him is why have I not heard about him before now and I can only put it down to the fact that his works all appear to be Devon related and mostly North Devon. I do not have a problem with this because I think it is a fantastic part of the country and full of nature's beauty, but I would have liked to have read his works before now.

On the cover of the book, which was written in 1998, it states that Trevor owns a fourteen acre private nature reserve which gives him the inspiration behind many of his articles and books. As you know I also have some land which I hope to turn into my private nature reserve but it is only six acres. I intend to use this land for my wildlife photography and it should give me inspiration to write articles for my blog.  Trevor’s book contains one hundred and fifty of his articles. I have only just started reading and already I'm thoroughly enjoying it. He seems to write about one or two subjects per article. The sad thing about this it that it just gets you hooked before he moves on to the next subject. The upside of this is that you are looking and wanting more, therefore I will just have to buy some of his books.

As you know I love all wildlife and I have picked up on one point the he makes. On page ten he states "We are strange creatures, usually waiting until a species becomes rare and has to fight for survival before specially protecting it, although we are beginning to wake up a bit." I feel that nearly twenty years later we still have not woken up a bit and nowhere near smelling the coffee. How long are we going to take to wake up? We are killing wildlife every minute of the day, some to eat but a lot just for so called sport, money or, the even harder to believe, because it is a tradition!!! Recently I watched a film about Puffins and Whales being killed for tradition and read that twenty five million birds a year are being killed in the Mediterranean area as they make their migratory journey of birds from Europe to Africa and it did make my blood boil. The saddest thing is that nothing can survive this continued slaughter and when the wildlife has all gone then what are they going to kill! I know I might be a bit selfish because I love wildlife photography and less wildlife makes my hobby harder. But surely a world without wildlife will be a very sad place. I could have a really good rant but this is just my view a not for a wildlife photography blog.

After reading quite a few of his musings in the book he has got me hooked. I love his style of writing and he makes me want to get out more to see, photograph and write about my own wildlife and nature experiences. I can't imagine ever drawing as well as he does because I can't even draw a matchstick man properly, one leg or arm is always longer than the other. But if I can learn from his writing then I'm hoping more people will become interested and enjoy my blogs. If you enjoy wildlife and nature I would urge you to look up Trevor Beer ( and his articles in the Western Morning News on the Internet or one of his books and find the time to read them as they are thoroughly enjoyable.

I'm off to carry on reading this wonderful book by Trevor and let myself dream about the world he's writes about.

If you enjoy reading my wildlife photography blogs and wish to be notified each time they are published then please click on the RSS link below and subscribe - it is free or visit and LIKE my Facebook Photography page Also please leave a comment telling me what you think by clicking on the link above or below this blog thank you very much.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Areas of Natural Beauty Blog British Naturalist's Association Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon David Bellamy David Bellamy Award Devon Facebook photography page Gavin Maxwell Gavin Maxwell Award MBE National Trust National Trust gift shop National Trust properties Naturalist" Nature Nature Watch North Devon North Devon Areas of Outstanding Beauty Otters Otters in the wild Puffins Trevor Beer Trevor Beer MBE Western Morning News Whales Wildlife Champion Wildlife artist Wrens big cats in Britain bird birds blog blogs enjoy wildlife and nature fight for survival good photos of wrens image images information and ideas juvenile wrens killing wildlife migratory journey of birds from Europe to Africa nature reserve nature's beauty photograph photograph Wrens photograph and write about my own wildlife and nature experiences photographing photographing wrens photography information photography tips private nature reserve tips wild birds wildlife wildlife and nature experiences wildlife photographer wildlife photography wildlife photography blog wildlife photography blogs wildlife photography tips wildlife photography tips in my blog world without wildlife wren wrens Thu, 28 Jul 2016 21:06:13 GMT
The Weather on Dartmoor in Devon, Natures Greatest Sights and Acorn Lodge B&B Dartmoor I have lived on Dartmoor in Devon, England for two and a half years nowand seen three summers. The first one we had great weather, the second was not so good with a fair bit of rain. This third one has been great again. In the last ten weeks we have had about seven weeks of sunshine, a couple of weeks where it has been cloudy but still warm and about a week of rain. I was told not to go to Dartmoor because it is always raining. It’s like what they say about Wales. “If you can’t see Wales it is raining but if you can see Wales then it is just about to rain!” I have a sister who lives in Wales and she is always telling me how great the weather is. We had a ten days holiday there a few years ago and everyday was sunshine. Maybe that’s why we have to pay to cross the bridge to get into Wales (which I don’t understand). Then again you have to pay to cross the Tamar Estuary to get into Devon (which I DO understand). So the week continued with fantastic weather down here on Dartmoor. It was a blue sky with a few white fluffy clouds and it was hot, up to 25 degrees. The moor was covered with people on holiday and locals out for a walk. This would have been a problem for wildlife photographers to get somewhere quiet to get to do their photography and that is why I get up early and do mine, well before most people get up.

Having said this I was in for a surprise on Friday. I was up at 4:30am and I was out of the door before 5am with my dog and binoculars to see what I could find. The weather at home was exactly what I described above so I was looking forward to my walk. I drove to the Tor car park and as I was getting closer the weather started to change so much so that when I arrived I could not see over 20 metres as it was so foggy. This Tor is about 1.5 miles away from my house; it just goes to show how the weather conditions can change in such a short time on Dartmoor. I turned around and drove to another location down in the valley. When I got there the fog was not quite so thick so I parked up and started walking. Murphy, my dog, was not bothered about the weather it can be sunny, snowing or foggy as long as it is not raining and he is out, he does not care.

I was out for about three hours and during the first hour the fog was gradually thinning out so my last one and a half hours being out, was in glorious sunshine. The fog had disappeared from where I was walking but I could see, or not see, that the beautiful Devonshire town of Tavistock was still shrouded by the fog. Weather conditions still fascinate me, I used to take all the meteorological data at school, log it and try to predict the weather. It appears to be a bit easier nowadays with computers and satellites, but professionals still can’t get it right. Remember in 1987, what do you mean you were not born then, you will be telling me next you have never seen England win the World Cup in football! I digress. In 1987 a weather forecaster stated that, there was not going to be a hurricane, to a woman on TV and then during the night we had high winds and half the trees in southern England blew down, also caravans, cars and boats all over the place.

Whilst I was out I witnessed one of nature’s greatest sights and I really wish that I had a camera with me. I was walking along one side of a stone wall when I saw a group of about 20 Linnets flying from a small tree down to the grass, which was dry but had all the seed in their heads, on the other side of the wall. This was happening about 25 metres away from me. The linnets were landing on nearby weeds and reaching over to eat the seeds in the heads. Soon they were joined by others which gradually swelled the group to about 100 birds. Within this group were a few Goldfinches. Over the coming minutes more and more linnets kept joining this group flying from the tree to the grass and back again. After about 30 minutes this group had swelled to about 1,000 birds and I was so overawed with their presence being so close. When they landed in the tree it appeared that the tree was alive and when they flew to the grass there was a huge woosh of sound. I have witnessed Starling murmurations but never this close. I was just mesmerised by what was happening in front of me. I could have stayed and watched it for ages but my dog was getting fed up so, reluctantly, I moved on. I thought to myself that I will be back with my camera but it will have to be on Saturday because I had “jobs” to do at home.

On Saturday morning I dashed out early with my camera full of anticipation and went straight to where I had seen the linnets the day before. When I got there the scene was devastating for me and could not believe it. The farmer had cut and collected the grass and there was not a single linnet to be seen. I cannot tell you how disappointed and annoyed I was but at least I had witnessed it the day before.

So with my main aim thwarted and no plan in my head I just went walkabout with my camera equipment. Whilst on my walkabout I got some nice images of Meadow Pipits on gorse bushes and Yellowhammers sitting on green bracken which I think looked really good.


When I got back home my wife asked how I got on and I told her what I’d seen, her reply was “I should always take my camera” hindsight!!!!

Out early again on Sunday morning and the light was to die for. I searched around for Stonechats, especially the males with their black heads and their white, buff and red chests, in an area that has the sun lighting them up, so you see detail in their heads, and the bush they are on, but with the darkness of trees and the town of Tavistock behind. To me this really makes a nice image as it seems to make the bird really stand out. What do you think?

Stonechat JuvenileStonechat Juvenile

When I arrived home from work the other day I switched off the engine and I sat in the car watching a Wren hunting for food on our fence. Recently we fenced off an area of our garden for use by guests staying at our Bed and Breakfast at Acorn Lodge on Dartmoor ( ). Within the garden area we erected a summer house, again for guests use. It really is a Bed and Breakfast with a difference as it states on our website. With a normal Bed and Breakfast you get a room, usually small, and that’s it. Some B&B’s still want you out of the room by 10am and you are not allowed back in until about 4pm, not ours, because you get a key to the door and the whole lodge is yours for the length of your stay, even on single occupancy. So apart from a really good selection of breakfasts you get a choice of two Bedrooms, Shower room, Kitchen, Lounge, Dining / Study area, Private garden and a summer house. On top of that you also get a Devon cream tea on arrival. I’m married to the woman who prepares all that, so why don’t I ever get a cream tea!!! Anyway I digress. This wren was going around all the nooks and crannies where spiders and insects were. It amazes me how quick nature makes use of human interference on the land and it becomes part of their lives. Put a fence up, spiders will use it for their webs to catch their food. They in turn become food for the birds. Put a bridge up and birds will use it as a nesting sight. Build a house and although it is for the habitation of a human they are not the only ones that will be living there. So subconsciously every time we build something we are doing it for wildlife. Good hunting (with a camera).

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(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Acorn Lodge Acorn Lodge Bed and Breakfast Acorn Lodge on Dartmoor Bed and Breakfast Bed and Breakfast at Acorn Lodge on Dartmoor Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon England Devon Devonshire town of Tavistock Goldfinches Linnets Meadow Pipits Starling Starling murmurations Stonechats Tamar Estuary Tavistock Tor Wren Wren hunting for food Yellowhammers Yellowhammers sitting on green bracken area beautiful Devonshire town of Tavistock birds camera camera equipment images of Meadow Pipits on gorse bushes insects linnet linnets nature nature's greatest sights photographers photography spiders town of Tavistock walkabout with my camera equipment watch a Wren hunting for food website wildlife wildlife photographers wren Fri, 22 Jul 2016 14:42:23 GMT
Springwatch, Juvenile Pied Wagtail, Bird Boxes and Photographing Birds in Flight Part 2 Just recently I seem to be having my own personal live Springwatch )which is great. A couple of weeks ago I sat by the river Tavy, Dartmoor in Devon, photographing Dippers in the pouring rain and I had the wonderful siting of a Stoat running along the riverbank opposite and scrambling up a couple of trees searching for food. Well this week on two occasions I had a stoat jump out on the road in front of me with a rabbit in its mouth. The first time it happened I had to stop because the rabbit was so big the stoat was really struggling to carry it. In the end it did manage it but I am glad I stopped and blocked the lane “Devon road”, because it forced a car, coming the other way, to stop and let the stoat across. If I had not stopped then I'm sure there would have been one more bit of roadkill. On the second occasion the rabbit was quite small and the stoat just ran from one side of the road to the other dragging the rabbit along.


The weekend went by without me doing any photography but to make up for it I took my camera along when I went out walking with my dog in the evenings. I got a photograph of an unknown bird ,I think it could be a Juvenile Skylark or Juvenile Meadow Pipit, see pictured below. As you can see it was on a gorse bush on Dartmoor and it was next to a male Stonechat. If anyone knows then please leave a comment and let me know.




After I walked the dog I drove to a spot where I know there are a few juvenile Pied Wagtails. Below is one image from the set I took.


Pied WagtailPied Wagtail


Not much happening down on our Nature Reserve on the edge of Dartmoor at the moment but I have been busy building bird boxes. I want to put up about ten boxes for Blue tits, Great tits, Treecreepers, Flycatchers etc. I will also build and put up two Owl / bird of prey boxes. Apart from bird boxes I will also build and put up some Bat boxes and Dormice boxes. Doing all this and slightly thinning out the trees in the wood should encourage wildlife to come and stay in the area. I have been looking and reading up on planting a small area of wild flowers in the field and possibly building a small pond at the bottom of the wood on the flat area before you get to the river Tavy. I will try and incorporate one of the small streams into it so that it will have fresh water running into it before spilling into the river.

To carry on from last week’s blog.

Bird photography is challenging enough for a wildlife photographer as it is, but taking photos of birds in flight takes it even further into the difficulty box. Fast autofocus and owning a camera with a fast frame rate help but it is still extremely difficult to get good bird in flight images because you also need good technique. The best tip I can give you is start to walk, then trot, and then run. What I mean by this is that you should start with big slow moving birds like Swans, Gulls etc., then move on to medium moving birds like Buzzards, Eagles etc. And then move onto small birds like House Martins, Swallows etc.

There are a couple of things you need to do before you start panning. First of all you need to setup your camera correctly and second you need to pick a good location to pan. To make it easy for yourself you should change you camera mode to shutter priority. This is because you need to choose and keep the shutter speed to your creative setting. If you choose aperture priority the shutter speed will move up or down as the light changes.

To stop all movement you need a shutter speed of 1500th second or more. The ISO could be set to anything as long as you achieve the correct shutter speed. Set an aperture to get all the wildlife in focus, f8 or near that is a good spot.

To get the wings and background blurred you can start off with a shutter speed of anything between 15th second to 200th sec or more depending on the effect you want. The ISO could again be set to anything but keep it low as you do not need a high shutter speed. The aperture does not matter; again f8 is good, as the extremities will be moving. So your main goal is keep the speed low.

Switch to continuous drive mode so that you can capture a sequence of shots with the wings in different positions.

Set your focus mode to AI Servo on Canon cameras or AF-C on Nikon cameras as the bird will be moving and set an autofocus point away from the central autofocus point. If you select the centre point although it is the fastest, you might have to crop your image afterwards depending on the composition you want. I usually set one of the points, in red below, outside the “partial metering area”, the circle in the centre of your viewfinder, and this aids the composition of my image.


Think about composition (Please read my previous blog on composition and use an area and background that compliments the colour of the bird. For example If it is a dark coloured bird then you can use the sky and if it's a light coloured bird then you can use trees, mountains or even the sea as a background, remember check the histogram and use  exposure compensation if needs be. Doing this also aids the autofocus in locking onto the bird. The image below is of a Fulmar, a light coloured bird, with the dark coloured sea in the background.


You will get a stronger image if there is more negative space in front of the bird than behind. Try and be at the same height as the bird or close to it rather than above or below. Also try and shoot with the sun or light coming from behind you, to get this you need to plan ahead.

Next is the slight problem area. Look at the area you are going to photograph birds in flight. If your lens will be pointing at the sky then you will need plus exposure compensation especially if it is a grey sky. You might still need it if the sky is blue with the odd white fluffy cloud (some hope!). The amount of compensation you’ll need could be anywhere between +0.3 right up to +2.3 of a stop. If your lens is pointing towards a darker background then you might need minus exposure compensation to not blow out the highlights or white feathers of the birds. If you want to take Birds in Flight photographs with your lens pointing to the sky then try and take them either early in the morning or late in the afternoon (golden hour) because at this time of day the low sunlight will light up the underneath of the bird.

You will need a lens of 300mm, 400mm or 500mm. Some photographers keep the image stabilisation on when panning. If the bird is moving from one side of me to the other then my image stabilisation in on but if it is moving all over the place then I switch it off. Newer lenses can cope, I believe, but older ones can struggle.

Do not use any teleconverters when panning as they do slow your autofocus down.

Some lenses have a distance switch on them which reduces the minimum focusing distance. If you switch this to get a minimum focus distance of at least 4 metres, because your subject will be further than this, it will also speed up your autofocus

Artic SkuaArtic Skua  

Once you have all this sorted there is just the minor thing of learning how to pan with your camera.

Panning, when done correctly, can show the beauty of an animal or bird in motion. You can use a fast shutter speed to stop all movement but a better image would be a slow shutter speed to stop the main body or head of the bird but blur the wings and background. Once again you need to get the eyes of the wildlife sharp. Be careful when panning because it is easy to get the wing tip sharp instead of the eye.


To pan properly without a tripod you should stand with your feet about shoulder width apart facing the background you want in your image. Keep your elbows tucked in and when you pan only pivot the top part of your body. Twist your torso to the left or right to pick up your subject in your lens. Get the active autofocus point on your subject and then move your lens and follow the subject. Whilst doing this try and keep both eyes open because you can track the subject better, to see where it is going and you can see what is coming up so you will know when to start pressing the shutter release button. Remember, if you are shooting in RAW, if you start shooting too early you could fill up your buffer before the subject gets to your desired background. Keep your feet firmly planted to the floor whilst panning. Do not stop shooting and panning just after your desired background, just keep going until your torso gets to the other side of the twist. You will be surprised how many keepers I have got “after” passing my desired background.



To make panning easier, especially when using heavy lenses, use a tripod or better still a monopod. If the pan is a short arc, 90 degrees, then I will use a tripod but if it is nearly 180 degrees then I will use a monopod. On a long pan I tend to trip over a tripod’s legs, but that might just be me. When using either I attach a Wimberley gimbal head (  ) which I find a fantastic tool for panning. It is well made, very smooth movement, but a bit expensive, but if you have a good ball head then you can get a cut down version called a Wimberley Sidekick which can do a similar job for about half the price.

Now you are armed, what are you waiting for, get out there and get photographing. Good Hunting (with a camera).

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) AF-C on Nikon cameras AI Servo AI Servo on Canon cameras Bat Bird photography Birds in Flight photographs Blue tits Buzzards Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon Devon Devon road Dippers Dormice Eagles Flycatchers Fulmar Great tits Gulls House Martins Juvenile Meadow Pipit Juvenile Skylark Nature Reserve Nature Reserve on the edge of Dartmoor Owl Springwatch Stoat Stonechat Swallows Swans Treecreepers Wimberley Sidekick Wimberley gimbal head active autofocus point aperture priority area autofocus autofocus point background ball head bird bird boxes bird of prey boxes birds blog boxes for Blue tits building a small pond building bird boxes camera camera mode capture a sequence of shots composition composition of my image continuous drive mode creative setting crop your image encourage wildlife exposure compensation focus mode get a stronger image get the wings and background blurred golden hour good bird in flight images good location to pan highlights histogram image image stabilisation juvenile Pied Wagtails learning how to pan with your camera lens lenses minimum focus distance monopod negative space out walking with my dog pan panning partial metering area photograph photograph birds in flight photographers photographing Dippers photography planting a small area of wild flowers rabbit river river Tavey Dartmoor in Devon photographing Dippers setup your camera shooting in RAW shutter priority shutter release button shutter speed stoat taking photos of birds ib flight teleconverters the beauty of an animal or bird in motion tripod using heavey lenses viewfinder wild flowers wildlife wildlife in focus wildlife photographer Fri, 15 Jul 2016 15:03:05 GMT
Photographing Dartmoor Wheatears, Focus Settings & Photographing Birds in Flight Part 1 I was out early on Dartmoor on Saturday morning photographing juvenile Wheatears as there were plenty around on Friday as I informed you in last week’s blog. There was not a cloud in the sky which I was hoping would change because I prefer to take photos on a bright but cloudy day so that the sun is not too harsh or contrasty. Digressing for a moment, I always state that I am out early and early for me is between 04:00hrs and 05:30hrs and I stay till out till about 10:00hrs or 11:00hrs. There are several reasons for this but the main ones are I love the solitude I get at this time of day with just me and the wildlife. I love the light although late evening light is just as good but there are more people around especially letting their dogs chase the wildlife. Back to Saturday’s photography, I parked the car and walked the half mile to the area I had seen the wheatears. I set myself up and waited, not too much had to be done as I was going to handhold my camera and lens. I was lying down on a grassed area that was full of sheep and horse (Dartmoor pony) poo. (The things I do for my wildlife photography). The poo entices the insects which in turn entices the birds to feed on them. I waited for about an hour before the juvenile wheatears appeared. I had nothing and then three appeared all at once. As soon as they appeared a couple of Skylarks and a Meadow Pipit appeared. They were all pecking at grubs and insects whilst I clicked away, happy as a pig in SSSSSSheep poo!!! The juvenile wheatears got so close at one stage that I had to stop and just watch them because they were too close for me to focus on them. Come on Canon, I need a 500mm f4 lens that focuses at 2 metres. On a couple of occasions they flew away but returned within a couple of minutes. Whilst I laid there I could see the sky in front of me, over Tavistock, turning black and just in front of it was a full rainbow. The rainbow started getting closer and closer (bringing the gold to me) and the rain. As soon as I started to feel some drops I packed up and protected my camera equipment with my coat. I picked up my Linpix photography mat (a lot sturdier then a bin bag, and warmer), which saved me from getting wet and covered in you know what, and walked back to the car hoping that I have some good images on my CF card. The image below is of a Juvenile Wheatear from this shoot. It was taken handheld and I used manual focus.

Juvenile WheatearJuvenile Wheatear

Nowadays most cameras have got autofocus and most people rely on this method to get their subject in focus. There are normally two settings; One Stop in Canon cameras, Single Servo in Nikon and single shot in some others, where you press the shutter release half way down, the camera focuses using the selected autofocus point. To refocus you have to lift your finger off the shutter release and then press it half way down again. You can get a focus confirmation beep but please switch it off as it can disturb wildlife and it really gets on people's nerves after a while in a public hide. Instead of the annoying beep, Canon cameras have a green focus confirmation light that lights up in the viewfinder. As long as you keep the shutter release pressed half way down the focus will not change. The second autofocus setting is AI Servo in Canon cameras, Continuous Servo in Nikon and continuous focus in some others. This is where as long as you press the shutter release half way down the camera will keep on focusing at whatever the active autofocus point is pointing at.


Although autofocus is great it can have problems and that is why there is of course a third setting, the dreaded manual focus, but I'll talk about this setting later on.


The reason why there are two settings, ignoring manual, is because the first one I described is for static subjects and the second one is for moving subjects. But remember there is a way you can beat having two settings and just have one by combining them. This can be done by changing the settings in your camera and using a different button on your camera, normally at the back. This is called “back button focusing” and is great once you get used to using it. (Please read my previous blog on this subject ) (I will continue as though you do not use back button focusing).


With one shot focusing you set the autofocus point you require. I usually go for one of the autofocus points just outside the “partial metering” circle (the feint circle seen in your viewfinder, in red in the photo below) either top left, top right, bottom left or bottom right.




The reason I pick these is to help with the composition of the image as it gets the subject away from the centre of the photograph ( Please read my previous blog on composition ) When you see a static subject put the selected autofocus point on the part of the subject you want sharp, usually the eye, recompose to how you want the image, keeping the shutter release pressed half way down, and then press the shutter release all the way down to take the shot. If you have a problem focusing and the lens starts to hunt, goes back and forth, then you can always focus on something that is close to the same distance as your subject and then focus on your subject.


When using the AI Servo setting you have got to keep the selected autofocus point on the subject, in other words you must “pan” with the moving subject, press the shutter release half way down to activate the autofocus. Once focus has been achieved you can then continue pressing the shutter release all the way down to take the shot. One of the biggest problems people don't get sharp images of moving subjects is because they do not allow the focus to be achieved by the camera before they take the shot. A lot of cameras nowadays allow you specify which autofocus points can track the moving subject. There are too many options to discuss in this blog but read your instruction book (Oh NO!!!) and look on the internet to see how other owners of your camera model have set theirs up and see the results they get. You can set your drive to high speed so that you can take multiple shots of the moving subject. If you can, try and let the cameras autofocus lock on to the subject when it is some distance away. Once it has locked on then “pan” with the subject, keeping the shutter release pressed half way down and wait until it is the desired distance away before taking the shot. If you look at the photo below, of a flying fulmar, I had locked onto this subject when it was flying around the previous headland, quite some distance away.


As I previously said some cameras, once focus has been achieved, the active autofocus point will move, track, with the subject, to the next point around the cameras focusing area to keep the subject in focus.


Camera manufacturers have spent millions of pounds, dollars, yen etc. on upgrading every new cameras autofocus so then you might think that if you have got autofocus then why do you need manual focus. I wonder what percentage of photographers ever uses manual focus, I know I do. Let me tell you that there are still times when manual focus is the best focusing option as it gives you more control over what you want to appear sharp in your image and it can achieve effects that are not possible with autofocus. At the beginning focusing manually can be a pain and very slow to use but after a while you do get quicker at achieving focus. To start with you will have to change a switch on your lens from AF to M. You can do this in any shooting mode and as soon as you flick the switch you will notice that when you half press the shutter release button nothing will happen this is because you will have to turn the focusing ring on your lens to focus. Look through your viewfinder and as you turn the ring you will notice things getting in focus and then out of focus as you keep on turning. Years ago you had a split prism in the centre of your viewfinder and to focus you had to twist your lens’ focusing ring so that the view in the centre all lines up and then the image would be sharp. Nowadays you have an unsharp image and you twist the lens’ focusing ring until it is sharp. I actually find it harder to manually focus through the viewfinder now because the image can be dark and because I'm older!! Nowadays though there is help for us old ones, you can use your live view screen to focus on the part of the image you want sharp. Using live view is good because you can zoom into the image and be really critical about what you want sharp. I use this method of focusing when doing macro photography. As usual I want the eye sharp. With autofocus it will focus on the thing that the autofocus point is aiming at and that might not be the eye. With manual focus, especially using live view, you not only get the eye sharp but you can also see the amount of depth of field you are getting and, because it is so shallow, you can change it if needs be. Some people set a distance or a magnification on their lens and move in and out whilst shooting lots of frames. Images are cheap nowadays and this is one method you could employ.


Apart from using manual focus for macro photography I also sometimes use it when I'm out photographing wildlife with my telephoto lens. The times I think about manual focus is when the lighting, subject and background is very flat, when there is something, like a branch, a plant or grass, like the image of the Juvenile wheatear above, partly blocking the subject and when the background is very bright compared to the subject. Also you might have to switch to manual focus if you are shooting through glass say at a zoo or wildlife park. To achieve focus I look through the viewfinder and rotate the focusing ring until I go just past sharp focus then I rotate it back going just past sharp focus. I do this rotating it by smaller and smaller amounts each time until focus is achieved.


Landscape photographers use manual focus regularly especially when they want the whole scene in view in focus. The term they use is Hyperfocal because it is the hyperfocal point they use to focus on. On some, mainly older, lenses photographers used the lens’ depth of field (dof) scale on the lens (its the scale just above the small window.




They used to set the aperture, say f16, then rotate the focusing ring until the infinity marker, 8 on its side, was lined up with one f16 marker on the dof scale and the other marker was lined up with the minimum “in focus” measurement which could be 2 meters for example. That means that everything from 2 meters to infinity would be in acceptable focus. Nowadays some people focus a third of the way into the viewfinder by moving their active autofocus point to the bottom third line and focusing whatever is on this line. Others have a hyperfocal depth of field chart for their particular lens which gives them the focusing information although you can get an app for your smartphone or tablet.

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Next week’s blog is part 2 which is about using this information to get images of Birds in Flight.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) AI Servo Camera manufacturers Canon Canon cameras Dartmoor Dartmoor pony Hyperfocal Juvenile Wheatear Landscape photographers Linpix photography mat Meadow Pipit Nikon Skylarks Tavistock acceptable focus active autofocus point aperture autofocus autofocus point autofocus points back button focusing best focusing option birds blog camera equipment cameras cameras autofocus cameras focusing area changing the settings in your camera composition depth of field dof focus focus comfirmation beep focus comfirmation light focuses focusing manually focusing ring frames fulmar handheld handhold my camera and lens hyperfocal hyperfocal depth of field chart image images images of Birds in Flight insects juvenile Wheatears lens lens' focusing ring lenses light live view macro photography manual manual focus pan partial metering photograph photographers photographing photographing juvenile Wheatears photographing wildlife photography photos public hide sharp images of moving subjects shutter release shutter release button telephoto lens unsharp image use your live view screen to focus using manual focus for macro photography viewfinder wheatears wildlife wildlife photography Fri, 08 Jul 2016 11:04:41 GMT
Trials of Photographing Juvenile Dippers and Before & After Pressing the Shutter Button I was out early last Saturday morning with my camera back to the river Tavy on Dartmoor in Devon to get more photos of a Dipper. My wife dropped me off and was going to leave me there for about five hours. The weather was a bit cloudy but at least it was dry. I set up my camera equipment and settled down to do some flight shots of a dipper going back and forth feeding the young under the bridge. Within ten minutes the sky got very dark and it started to rain luckily I had waterproofs on and my camera and lens was protected with a waterproof cover. For the next hour and a half it rained. When I say it rained it was coming down so hard I could hardly see the other side of the riverbank at times. Because of osmosis the water went through my “waterproof” trousers and I was wet from my bum down. Luckily it was warm otherwise I would have been feeling really fed up.


About ten minutes after the rain stopped I spotted a Stoat on the opposite riverbank. It ran along the bank from my right to my left. It jumped over a couple of logs, into some thick grass and then ran straight up a tree. I watched it as it searched some of the branches looking for bird’s nests, a similar action to what happened on Springwatch. I know of a Greater Spotted Woodpeckers nest just the other side of the bridge but the stoat did not go near it. It came back down the tree and then went up another, again with no luck. Finally it ran back in the direction it came from. Throughout this viewing I tried to get a photo of it but two things stopped me. One it was so fast I could not locate it with the camera and two because it was still dark I could only manage 20th sec with an ISO of 6400. So no photo but it was a pleasure to watch this spectacle for real rather than on TV.


After the stoat had gone I sat there for another hour with still no show of the dipper. I was starting to worry about it thinking about it being predated or the young could have fledged. This is one of my, and lots of other wildlife photographers that work during the week, problem. I find some wildlife on one weekend and I have to leave it until the next weekend to find out what has happened during the week. I stopped worrying when the dipper appeared with a beak full of food for its young. But it did not stop; it flew straight past the bridge and went down river. I thought the juvenile dipper must be down river so I packed up and went for a walk along the riverbank. I say walk but it was more of a stumble really, stumbling from one wet mossy boulder to another praying that I didn't drop my camera equipment in the river. After a stumble of about half a mile the dipper flew past me going up river with a beak full of food! It looked as though I had been fooled by the dipper so I turned around and stumbled back up river. When I got to my original position I stopped to wait, see and listen. (The real reason was I was knackered, but don't tell anyone). Whilst listening I heard a very feint sound of the juvenile dipper just before it accepted food from the adult. So I gathered my equipment again and carried on walking up river. After about a hundred yards I located the juvenile dipper on a rock on the other side of the river. I set up my camera equipment to wait for the adult dipper. The location it had picked was like the inside of a cave, 20th sec f5.6 at ISO 6400, there was no chance I was going to stop any movement. The photo below is the best I could get, sorry.



I took my tele converter off but even at f4 I could only get about 80th sec so I took lots of images of the juvenile dipper hoping I would get one sharp one, I have not looked yet. I don't hold much hope because dippers keep dipping all the time. The light never improved but I did reduce my ISO to 1600 but the exposure was nearly in seconds. Five hours had gone by quite slowly at first, when I was getting wet through with nothing to photograph, but time flew by when I had the dippers in my viewfinder.


This morning, Friday, I went out on the moor to walk my dog. I walked from the car park to the top of a Tor. On this walk there were a lot of juvenile Wheatears flying around which will mean I will be there this weekend with my camera to “hopefully” get some images of them.  When I was at the top of the Tor I was looking around and to the right there is what looks like a grazing field with about 80 boulders dotted around it. On top of nearly every boulder sat a Crow. I found this a bit odd as I know crows usually have one or two birds on guard duty but they were all on guard duty so something had to be up. It did not take me long to find the reason why. Mr Fox was trotting along without a care in the world with a crow in its mouth. I watched it until it went out of sight and Murphy, my dog, started jumping up because he wanted to get walking again. Once again there was no sight or sound of the Cuckoo, very disappointing.  


After a day walking around an area with your camera equipment, or during the day, you sit down and take a rest. As you do the bird you were after lands on a bush / branch / tree right in front of you. You raise your camera and get the bird in your viewfinder and fire off a few frames. Now if you are like me this is the moment you're like a kid in a sweet shop, (or is it kid in Macdonalds nowadays?), with a big grin on your face. The trouble is that now is the time to slow down and think. Have I got the right ISO, f-stop, shutter speed etc., has any of the camera buttons / wheels been moved whilst I was walking around (I've moved the exposure compensation wheel several times). But you should also think about the composition of your image including the background and the foreground. Look through your viewfinder and examine the whole area to find if there is anything distracting in the image. After you take one photo quickly check the histogram to see if the exposure is correct. Once you have checked it all and taken several photos of the bird, move your position as it is amazing what a difference your position will make to the image. Move to a prone position, kneeling, standing, to the left or right will sometimes change the image completely. The two images below are of the same Willow warbler singing on the same bush and all I have done is stood up. Look at the difference it made. It is up to the individual which one he or she likes (if any). I know which one I prefer. Let me assure you that there is no Photoshop background changes here. Good hunting (with a camera).

Willow WarblerWillow Warbler

Willow WarblerWillow Warbler

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Crow Cuckoo Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon Devon Dipper Fox Greater Spotted Woodpeckers nest Juvenile Wheatears Springwatch Stoat Tavy Wheatears Willow warbler background bird bird's nests camera camera equipment compensation composition composition of your image converter crow crows dipper dippers equipment exposure exposure compensation exposure compensation wheel flight shots flight shots of a dipper foreground histogram image images juvenile juvenile dipper lens photo photograph photographers photos photos of a Dipper river river Tavy river Tavy on Dartmoor in Devon riverbank stoat tele converter viewfinder warbler wildlife wildlife photographers Fri, 01 Jul 2016 09:23:49 GMT
Wildlife Photography Patience and the Dipper on the River Tavy I love setting goals in wildlife photography for myself and I love it even more when I achieve them. A goal I set myself last year was I wanted to photograph a Dipper. I’d seen these great photos of them and thought to myself that I wanted to take some images of them and then some action shots of them. I was informed by different people of several places where dippers nest. Having visited all of them with no sightings I went my own way. So last February I started to walk along several rivers with my dog looking for dippers. February and March is a good time to look for these birds because they are thinking of setting up an area and finding and building a nest. It is also a good time for photographing wildlife on rivers because there are no leaves on trees to sap the light. Normally if you find one and they are there for a few days then they will be there for quite a while building a nest and rearing their young. Dippers normally nest in quite awkward places up underneath a construction like the underneath of a bridge for example. So when looking for these birds, you should also look for possible nesting sites. During these walks I spotted 2 dippers each on a different river. Therefore I went back to these regions to reconnoitre the area without my dog & I went back on 3 occasions each and at different times of the day to see what the light was like and to see if the dipper was there all day. During these times I also look for areas I can position myself either in a sitting or prone position looking for a bush or tree that will be at my back to hide my human shape. I adopt these positions and see, if I took a photo from there, what the background will look like. I also look to see if the wildlife, the dipper, is still in the area. The three times I returned to these areas the birds were still present. I picked my positions and returned with my camera equipment very early in the morning. I set myself up and then started to wait for the bird. Over the next four weekends I visited the areas on at least 6 occasions staying for about 4 hours on each occasion with no sighting of the bird. I was hoping that I might see a Grey Wagtail or even an Otter but in fact I did not see any wildlife except flies that kept biting me. I had insect repellent on but it appeared to be an attractor rather than a repellent! During the rest of the year, due to the no show, I did return to the area but only for a walk with my dog but I still did not see any dippers.

This February I returned to my quest and started a search for dippers once again. My other quest this year is to photograph a Cuckoo but that would not start that until April. I located 3 dippers and recommenced my reconnoitring of the areas. I chose my positions and started my vigil but once again after several weeks the birds had failed to appear when I had my camera with me, typical wildlife photography. I could guarantee that if I did not have my camera with me the dippers would be right in front of me doing cartwheels and the backstroke along the river! Once again I stopped bringing my camera and walked along the river with my dog. I saw quite a few images of dippers on Facebook and was really envious but it only spurred me on to get my own images.

In May I spotted two dippers on the river Tavy in an area quite close to where I live and only just down river from our nature reserve. The area was quite dark due to the amount of cover and with an ISO of 1600 I could only get 60th sec shutter speed. Whilst watching the birds I started looking for a possible nest site area and located a really good one further down the river. The area surrounding this possible nest site is half open which pushed the shutter speed up to 640th sec, now all I needed were the birds to confirm this might be their nest sight. Typical, once again they disappeared!!!!!

Last week I drove over the bridge that I thought was the possible nest site, my wife looked down on the river and informed me that there was a dipper on one of the rocks. As nobody was around I stopped and watched it for a few minutes. As I had reconnoitred the area previously, I said to my wife that I would return on Friday afternoon and see if I can get lucky.

So I returned on Friday afternoon at about 2pm. The dipper was not in sight so I set myself up and started to wait. The light was not very good and 200th sec was the most I could get with an ISO of 1600. I do not like using high ISO’s, it’s not because of the noise, because that can be dealt with by using noise reducing software, it’s because the fine detail, like feathers or hairs, disappears. After about ten minutes it turned up with a beak full of food and landed on the other side of the river. I cannot tell you the emotions that go through me when all the work I put in for my wildlife photography finally pays off. I nearly need to breathe through a brown paper bag to slow me down. For the next couple of hours I was photographing the birds which were coming and going collecting food for the young in the nest which was situated under the bridge, right where I thought is should be. Then the light started to fade so when the birds flew off I departed the area.

I returned early in the morning the next day and stayed for about 5 hours getting even more images. I was sitting with a tree / bush to my side and rear. Whilst there, a group of people walked onto the bridge, all wearing bright fluorescent clothing and carrying binoculars. They made such a racket shouting and screaming that I thought what was the point of carrying binoculars because with that row they will never see any wildlife. After a few minutes they moved on, the area returned to normality and I could continue photographing dippers. I was sat with my wellies dangling in the water and my monopod, fully extended about 180cm long, in the river with my camera about 30cm above the waterline. I tried to get some shots of the dipper flying along to the nest with its beak full of food but I nearly fell in the river so I gave that up. I find flight shots of birds are easier handheld rather than with a monopod. When the birds move away for a while I start thinking creatively and what shots I could achieve. Having thought of a few, and as the light started to get too harsh due to the sun and a bright blue sky, I decided to pack up and return the next morning with my tripod to achieve some of those shots I have in mind.

The next morning it was thick fog and raining, you know the very misty rain that does not look much but you get absolutely soaked. Never mind I will be back next Friday. Good Hunting (with a camera).

If you like this or any of my other blogs can you please sign my guestbook, thank you.

I'll leave you this week with one of my photos of the Dipper from the two shoots. Within the next year I will post process more of the photos. At the moment I am on 2015 photos.


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Cuckoo Dipper Dippers Facebook Grey Wagtail Otter Wagtail action shots bird birds blogs camera camera equipment creatively dipper dippers dippers nest dippers on the river Tavy equipment feathers flight shots of birds goals in wildlife photography good time for photographing wildlife on rivers hair images insect light monopod nature nature reserve photograph photograph a Dipper photographing dippers photographing the birds photographing wildlife on rivers photography photos post process reconnoitre the area reconnoitring reserve river river Tavy rivers setting goals in wildlife photography shutter shutter speed tripod wildlife wildlife photography Thu, 23 Jun 2016 19:26:34 GMT
Being Creative with Zoo Photography and Wildlife Park Photography In this day where everyone is skimping and scraping to save a penny here and a penny there thanks to these wonderful measures this government is dishing out, except to themselves I expect, it is great to talk about something that bucks the trend. Recently I have had problems with my Hawke binoculars in that the eyepiece broke. I contacted Hawke Optics UK about it and they sent me a replacement eyepiece stating that if this did not work then I will have to send my binoculars to them. No matter how hard I tried I could not fit it so I packed it up and sent it to them. They returned it to me fixed for a small fee. The trouble was that I now could not focus on anything. I contacted them again stating this (they did state the reason but it went straight over my head) and they said that if I returned the binoculars to them they would replace them with a cheaper but better model with better glass even though I did not have the receipt. I did this and a week later I received a pair of brand new binoculars free of charge. Throughout the whole process Simon Chisholm, the service manager, has kept me well informed about what is happening and I cannot thank him enough with what he, and his staff, did. At the bottom of Hawke Optics UK email there is an advert which states "A NEW LEVEL OF OPTICAL PERFORMANCE". It is so close to what I think of Hawke Optics UK that I think under each staff member's names on their emails it should state "A NEW LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE". 

Before I start please remember that some zoos and wildlife parks own the rights to the wildlife so you can take photos for your own use but if you try to sell them you could get sued unless you have a property release form signed by the owners of the zoo or wildlife park.


Some wildlife photographers belittle zoo or wildlife park photography for several reasons including: - the wildlife is not “wild”, the wildlife is in a cage and cannot escape, the wildlife does not act normally etc. Personally I do not class this kind of photography as wildlife photography (if you do take images of this kind of photography then please don't try and kid people that it is a wildlife photo as you will be found out and your credence will be out the window) having said that it can be fun. I have never taken an image in a zoo because I don’t particularly like zoos, animals in small cages no not for me, but I have in wildlife parks and, if you think outside the box, it can be very different depending on how creative you are. Just digressing for a moment, I just stated that I don’t like animals in small cages but animals in a wildlife park is just animals in bigger cages isn’t it? I still don’t class them as “wildlife” so how big must a cage be before it is acceptable and I class them as wildlife? This might sound like an odd question but think outside the box, is 3 acres surrounded by a fence big enough? 3,000 acres, 30,000 acres, a small island it might not have a fence but it is surrounded by water, a type of fence. Take Brownsea Island near Pool in Hampshire for instance. It has got Red Squirrels on it and is surrounded by water so are they caged, trapped, confined, imprisoned? As they are, then is that not just a big wildlife park? England is a big island with lots of animals on it but it’s the same as Brownsea Island only on a bigger scale. If these animals are trapped, confined, imprisoned (you choose the word) then can we call them wildlife? What’s your view?

Recently I have seen some very good mono photographs on Facebook from, amongst others, Jim Palfrey and Paul Fine with an image of wildlife, picking on a certain area of the wildlife, usually the eyes, and the rest of the image is left very dark. I don't know if these images were taken in a zoo or a wildlife park but it's a great way of thinking outside the box and being very creative in hiding the “human” element of a zoo or wildlife park. Below are two examples of thinking outside the box.

Jim's Lynx

The first is of a Lynx and was taken by Jim Palfrey.

Paul's Gorilla

The second is of a Gorilla and was taken by Paul Fine.


Thank you Jim and Paul for letting me use your fine images in my blog to explain a point. Obviously this is not the only way of being creative but I will leave that up to your creativity.


To begin with what equipment will you need? Well any camera will do as long as you can change the aperture on it. The lens you need should be in the region of 100mm to 300mm for a full frame camera or a 50mm to 250mm for a crop sensor camera but it does depend on the type of image you are after. You could use a monopod if you wish because a tripod will get in the way of other people especially in a zoo and it will be more hassle then its worth. I have seen and heard stories of these problems including a tripod being hit by a child running with the photographer nearly having his camera damaged as it fell over and coming to blows with the child’s parents. So stick with handheld or a monopod. You could take a flash but some places do not allow it and it might cause unsightly reflections.


One of the first barriers, no pun intended, you need to cross is the cage. If you take a photo looking through the cage you will get the bars in your image and this is the kind of “human” element you want to get rid of, unless you are being creative and you want to include them. I know you can “clone” them out afterwards but do you really want all that work? To overcome this use a large aperture, like f2.8 or f4, put the front of you lens as close to the cage bars as possible, use a lens hood to protect the front element of your lens against the cage wire and aim the centre of your lens in the space between the bars. BE CAREFUL not to press the lens against the cage because some lenses move backwards and forwards when focusing and if you press against the cage you could stop the lens movement and damage your lens. Along with this try and wait until the wildlife is some distance away from the part of the cage you are photographing from, as this will help blur the cage bars because you are using a large aperture. Try and pick a part of the cage that is in shadow to photograph through because it will be less noticeable than a shiny part that the sun is shining on. Also be aware of the shadows the bars can cause on the subject, ground and background.


Some zoos and wildlife parks have glass cages or areas where you can look through glass to view the animals. This is great but it does create a few problems for the photographer. Try and pick a clean unscratched area of glass to point your camera through. If it’s not then try cleaning it, but be aware of scratching it when doing so. Some cameras “hunt”, go backwards and forwards, when they are trying to focus so you might have to use manual focus, heaven forbid that’s so last year. The other problem is reflections. Do the same as I mentioned above for a cage. Put a lens hood on your lens and hold it up close to the glass. Remember the warning above in regards to some lenses.


Before you actually go to the zoo or wildlife park look it up on the internet and see when feeding times are happening as usually this is when there is plenty of action at other times the wildlife could be just sitting there or even sleeping, not very exciting. Along with feeding times there could be shows where the keepers bring the wildlife out to “meet and greet” the public. This means that you get closer; the wildlife might be doing something and no cage bars. With this information to hand you can plan your day and know where to be at the right times. When planning your day try not to pick too many animals, it is better to pick a few and give them the time they deserve rather than try and cram them all in. Also check if they will allow photographers in early, stay late or even hold photographic events where they will allow you to step over the wire to get closer or even let you into the cage with the wildlife. Try to attend the zoo or wildlife park during the week and when “the kids” are still at school as this will give you more space to photographing animals. Some places, especially wildlife parks, have a closed season so another good time to go is right at the start or the end of the season because there will be less people then. When the day to go has arrived think about the weather. Grey skies and rain might be good for some photos but it could send the animals indoors and your time will be wasted.


Armed with all this information you attend a zoo or wildlife park and now is the time to relax and slow down. Do not rush from cage to cage in a zoo or enclosure to enclosure in a wildlife park. You cannot expect to turn up at a cage or an enclosure and “the moment” happens right there and then. You have to be patient and wait for it just like normal wildlife photography. At this point I will state the obvious – please don’t bang on the cage or throw something at the animals just to get them doing something just so you can take a photo and check the cage thoroughly before you start taking photos especially the background you do not want to get home and see a bright red bin in all your photos which you had not noticed because you got caught up in the moment. (It was hidden I'm telling you). If there are not many people in the area then get on the floor, either on your knees or lay down you will be surprised how good photos are from this viewpoint. You might, no sorry, you will get some strange looks but who cares your images will be better because you are not demeaning the animals by looking down on them. Also be aware of your camera equipment getting condensation when you come out of the “hot house (snakes)” and into the cold.


A couple of years ago I went to the London wetland centre because I heard that they were introducing Otters. I went there to have a look around and to get some images of these otters. I went during the week but being in the middle of London there were still quite a few people there. I arrived as soon as it was open and went straight for the otters but so did everyone else, some with cameras and a lot of others with prams!!! I held back because I knew I was going to be there all day. About mid-morning I finally saw the otters briefly and I did not think the enclosure they were in was big enough for them. There were still quite a few people there taking photos I don’t know what of because the otters had disappeared!! For the rest of the day I sat opposite the enclosure waiting for my moment. This came about 5:30pm which is about 30 minutes before the centre closes. The area was empty of people except me and three otters came out to play. I took several shots but the one below is my favourite.


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Brownsea Island near Pool Facebook Gorilla Jim Palfrey London wetland centre Lynx Otters Paul Fine Red Squirrels animals blog camera camera equipment cameras condensation creative crop sensor camera equipment focus full frame camera good photos image images internet large aperture lens lens hood lenses manual manual focus mono mono photographs monopod otters photo photographers photographic photographing photographing animals photography photos pjotos problems for the photographer property release form tripod trying to focus viewpoint wetland centre wildlife wildlife park wildlife park photography wildlife parks wildlife photo wildlife photographers Thu, 16 Jun 2016 15:45:51 GMT
The Photographers Dilemma, Wildlife Sightings on Dartmoor and the River Tavy Before I start this weeks wildlife blog I just want you to know that I have a new Facebook page at  Please take a look at it and "Like" it if you do, it would be most appreciated, thank you.

I was out with my camera on Friday morning walking the part of Dartmoor in Devon where I had previously seen and heard a Cuckoo. The way I work this area is that I find a suitable place that I can sit that has bushes in bloom, green bushes and sticks, in front and to the side of me so it gives the birds a choice of where to land and it gives me different lighting angles and different perches for my photos. I have a bush to my back so I am partly hidden and I wait in the shade. After about 30 minutes, if nothing happens, I suffer from "The Photographers Dilemma" which is, do I stay and see if something happens or do I move on to another spot. It usually depends on what has happened within the 30 minutes. If I had a few close calls then I employ a tactic that I used to use in my days of beach fishing, this being I'll give it 10 minutes more. (Ah those were the days when I went to the beach and stood there getting my fishing tackle wet and feeding the crabs!!!!) If nothing happens within that 10 minutes then I'll move on, but sometimes nature just teases you and you give it another 10 minutes. At times I have just sat there because the light is so good and I am willing and praying that some wildlife appears just so I can take a photo and show it off in great light. Sometimes I have sat there for hours and nothing happens. Sometimes I move and, from my new position, I can see a bird perching on a bush where I had moved from. Sometimes I move to another position and I get some wildlife action right in front of me. There are so many permutations that sometimes I get it right and sometimes not (which is most of the time). This is where wildlife photographers have got to put the hours in, waiting, to get lucky. It is also slightly different if I am wearing camouflage clothing or if I am in a portable hide. By wearing camouflage clothing I can move easily from place to place but if I am in my portable hide, either my tent hide or my chair hide, then this presents problems of taking it down and erecting it elsewhere if I move. This morning I was lucky enough to get images of Linnets, a Yellowhammer, Meadow Pipits, a Chaffinch and a Wheatear. I also saw Stonechats, Skylarks, Reed Buntings and 6 Mistle Thrush all in a little group but once again no sight or sound of the cuckoo. I look with envy at the images of cuckoos on Facebook and I wish I could get one but to be honest I am not putting enough time in to get lucky, one morning a week is nowhere near enough time. I saw a programme on television the other day that showed people carrying out research of meadow pipits and stonechats on Dartmoor because their numbers are reducing. I have only lived on Dartmoor for two years and there appears more of these two species this year than last year in the areas I frequent with my camera!

I was out early on Saturday morning walking my dog, without my camera, down by the weir that is a couple of miles away from our house but is only just down the river Tavy from our nature reserve. I spotted a Dipper which is typical, no camera so I see a dipper. I have not seen one for a few weeks now so I just stood there and watched it for about 10 minutes or so. During this time I noticed a blue flash fly past me which I can only put down to being a Kingfisher. This is the first kingfisher I have seen in this area and I hope it won't be my last. After the 10 minutes I had to go because my dog was getting restless. I walked along the river Tavy and heard chicks squeaking in an oak tree so I look up and saw 5 Greater Spotted Woodpecker holes. Each hole was about 2 to 5 inches, 5 to 12 centimetres, apart which goes along with the information I know which is, that the greater spotted woodpecker makes a new nest every year. I will have to research this to find out why, when the old hole is so close by. (I have tried to google this with no luck so if anybody knows why please tell because I’d love to know.) On my way back to the car I noticed an adult Fox with a food parcel in its mouth trotting along the side of a wall. A little bit further along three little brown "Exocet missiles" shot out of a hole in the wall racing to greet it. The first fox cub grabbed the food parcel and then a chase ensued with all three cubs going round in circles, keeping to the shade of the wall and the overhanging trees, and bowling each other over as they turned. The cub, that had the food in its mouth at the start, still managed to keep hold of it and finally woofed it down. I know I have said it before but I love foxes and given the time I could watch them all day. The adult fox moved off as the cubs were not interested in it, job done now go and get us some more food. As it moved off it jumped over a large fallen tree and up onto a stone wall before disappearing from sight, such agility.

All the work on our nature reserve has come to a halt even rebuilding the stone wall has stopped. The main reason is because of the vegetation growth. The grass in the field is above my knees and I'm six foot tall. The sun has been shining for about 4 weeks now with only one rain shower in that time. The result of this is that there is hardly any water in the river Tavy apart from in the deep pools, although our stretch still looks good and it is full of fish. As the water level is so low at the moment I might try and move a few boulders into our stretch just to get a possible photo opportunity if the dipper or Grey Wagtail is around.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Chaffinch Cuckoo Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon Devon Dipper Exocet missiles Facebook Fox Greater Spotted Woodpecker Grey Wagtail Kingfisher Linnets Meadow Pipits Mistle Thrush Photographers Photographers Dilemma Reed Buntings Skylarks Stonechats Wagtail Wheatear Yellowhammer action bird birds blog camera camouflage clothing chair hide cub cubs cuckoo different lighting angles different perches dipper fox fox cub foxes google great light greater spotted woodpecker hide images images of cuckoos kingfisher light lighting angles meadow pipits and stonechats on Dartmoor nature nature reserve perches photo photo opportunity portable hide reserve river Tavy stonechats on Dartmoor take a photo tent hide wearing camouflage clothing wildlife wildlife action wildlife blog wildlife photographers Thu, 09 Jun 2016 15:07:11 GMT
A Garden for Acorn Lodge Bed & Breakfast Guests and Using Flash for Wildlife Photography After working on the garden for two days, well painting the summerhouse and putting up a fence surrounding it and some of the garden for our Acorn Lodge Bed & Breakfast guests to use ( My wife and I went to our nature reserve on the edge of Dartmoor Devon to sit, relax and see what’s going on there. Driving along the lane just before the entrance to our nature reserve we noticed that either side is covered in bright yellow poppies. It turns out that this poppy is a Welsh poppy and it differs from other poppies by releasing its seeds through slits rather than the “pepper-pod” style head. We watched a buzzard being harassed by a crow, as it flew around, until it finally sat in its usual place the big beech tree. We also noticed that there was a mistle thrush flying from the wood; settling in the field and then flying back again, no doubt, to a nest. This is another bit of wildlife to add to the ever growing list. There are quite a few purple patches in the field where clover is coming out.


On Sunday morning I went out very early, 4:30am, with my camera hoping to get a photo of a cuckoo. I was in position on the moor hoping to see it fly from the trees on the farm. I have still yet to hear from the farmer about permission to go on his land so I stayed on the moor. About 5:15am, before the sun rose, I saw the cuckoo fly out and away from me towards the next valley. I stayed in amongst the gorse noticing that a lot of the yellow flowers were dying off. For the next couple of hours I took images of a Willow warbler, Linnets, Meadow pipits, a Yellowhammer and a Wheatear. I then noticed a Mistle thrush had landed in a clearing. As I slowly edged nearer the clearing I stepped on a boulder and as I put my weight on this foot its hold gave way. I twisted trying to protect my camera equipment and yelled as I did my back in. I never got the photo of the mistle thrush.


A few weeks ago I did no photography at all due to the good old British weather. We British love talking and moaning about the weather mainly because the weatherman, and weatherwomen, cannot get it right. It appears that the only real way of telling the weather is by looking out the window, but I digress. The light was dark grey and most of the time it was raining and, at times, it was hailstones that were coming down. I don't mind bright grey days because it saturates the colours and it narrows the contrast to fit the camera’s sensor and you can expose to the right for the whites but also get a good amount of detail in the shadows. Some people think bright sunny days are best for photography but not me because it is too contrasty for a camera’s sensor. If you expose to the right and get the exposure right for the whites then the shadows will be underexposed and just be a black shape. Here is an experiment you can try just to see how your camera’s sensor is limited in what it sees. Pick a nice bright sunny day and go out with your camera. Look at something, a tree or bush for example, which has the sunlight hitting it from the side so you can see a bright side and a dark side. When you look at it you can see detail on the bright side but you can also see detail on the shadow side. Now stay where you are, using your camera with a 50mm lens if you have a full frame camera or a 35mm lens if you have a cropped camera, take a photo, exposing to the right so you expose the whites correctly from where you are standing. If you don't expose to the right you will blow the highlights which means that there will be no detail in the highlights. When viewing that image you will notice that the shadows are very dark and you might see no detail at all in that area. This is because the camera’s sensor can only see about six stops, tones, of light from black to white whereas a human eye can see about sixteen stops of light.


So if the light is dark grey then the image turns out quite flat and dull and if it is bright sun the image is too contrasty, so what can we do about it. Some of it could be sorted in post production but if you go too far you start introducing artefacts in the image. Another way is by using electronic flash as a fill in. In dull light fill in flash will brighten up your image, give a bit more contrast to your image so the feathers or hair will appear sharper and give a catchlight to the eye of your wildlife. In bright sun fill in flash will punch some light into the shadows to bring out some detail and give a catchlight to the eye of your wildlife especially if it is backlit. I still don't like doing wildlife photography on bright sunny days flash or no flash. Some people like using flash and some don’t. Some of the ones that don’t like flash is because of ethical concerns, more of this later, some don’t like it because of the type of flashed image it can produce and some don’t like it because they don’t know how to use it.


There are a few problems with electronic flash it can give the wildlife red eye or green eye (animals) or steel eye (birds). The subject might be correctly exposed but the background is just black, if the wildlife moves during the exposure, most camera's flash sync speed is 250th sec, you can end up with a double exposure type of image where part of the subject is like a ghost and because the light from a flash falls off quite quickly you have to be very close to the wildlife to get it lit by the flash.


There are two ways of dealing with red eye or steel eye. The first is by post processing but, to me, it never looks right and why give yourself more work to do. The second is by moving the flash further away from the axis of the lens either by raising it or placing it further away to one of the sides, either top right or top left is the usual position. Remember to aim the flash correctly. This can be done by using stands, flash brackets etc. Apart from the stands or flash brackets you will also need an off-shoe cord to connect the flash to the camera’s hot shoe. If the subject is correctly exposed and the background is black then you can use a second flash to illuminate the background or you can reduce your shutter speed so that the ambient light will light up the background. The trouble with reducing the shutter speed is that wildlife moves and if it moves then you will get a ghosting effect which, I think, does not look very good. Remember that most camera's flash sync speed is about 250th sec and to stop movement from wildlife you will need a minimum of 1,000th sec.


The maximum distance you can use flash is about 5 metres so you have to be quite close. With a subject at 5 metres the light of the flash is already reducing so you will get very little light from the flash on it. For some animals and birds you being closer than 5 metres is within their circle of fear (for more info on this please read ) so as you can see there are problems using flash for wildlife photography. The way to get around the limited maximum distance is to buy a flash extender or better known as a Better Beamer. This will extend your flash from 5 metres to about 30 metres. Most flashguns have a zoom range to use with a lens of up to 105mm but you can use the Better Beamer with telephoto lenses of 300mm or more. You should set your flash to the 50mm setting when using a Better Beamer to light up the whole image and obtain an even coverage. The longer the setting then the narrower your flash light beam will be. Remember to buy adjustable flash brackets and set the flash and Better Beamer (FBB) to aim where you are pointing your lens. I use Wimberley flash brackets which help aiming the FBB by moving it up or down. They are quite expensive but because they are well made they stop the FBB from sagging. It is designed for use with a 300mm lens so if you use a larger telephoto lens you will be wasting some light but it still works with bigger lenses. It increases the flash output by more than 2 stops. It clips on to your flash head, so you have got to buy the right one for your flash and it holds a Fresnel screen in front of your flash. BE AWARE THIS SCREEN IS A LARGE MAGNIFYING GLASS AND CAN BURN AND DAMAGE YOUR FLASH OR CAMERA IF LEFT IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT. You should work in and set your flash to automatic flash mode, ETTL is the better choice because you can manually overexpose or underexpose to suit the image you are after. There is no need to make any other adjustments because the flash will turn off when the desired level of flash is obtained.

Flash with Better Beamer attached.


So the Better Beamer extends the distance but what can we do about the shutter speed well this is where high-speed sync flash comes in. In normal mode the flash waits until the cameras curtains, front and rear, are fully open before it fires to expose the image. In high-speed sync mode the flash fires several short bursts as the curtains are going across the front of the sensor. Because the speed of the flash is very fast 1,000th sec or more is easily achievable so this fixes the slow shutter speed problem.


Finally I’ve told you one way of getting rid of a black background but I do something different. To begin with I have my camera settings set to expose the image normally, in other words, with no flash. Because I am only using the flash as a fill in I then reduce the flash output / power by setting the flash to either -1, -2, -3 stops or a setting in between. My most used setting is round about -2. Because you have different flashguns and cameras you will have to test out your own settings and either remember them or write them down and take them with you. Have different settings for all types of light you might encounter. If you think about it if the flash fails to fire for some reason your image should be perfectly exposed without a black background and this is the perfect setting for fill in flash. If the flash fires it is only throwing enough light to fill in the shadows on the subject so again you will not have a black background. The best type of image produced is when people cannot tell if a flash was used.


  Kingfisher with no flashKingfisher with no flash Kingfisher with flashKingfisher with flash


This is the kind of effect I am looking for. The first photo was taken on a dull day and does not do justice to the Kingfisher. You can see the difference that a small amount of flash makes with the second photo. The flash should be set up in a way to light the subject but keep the light in the background the same. It has done everything that I want it to, it's boosted the colour and it's brought out the detail in the shadow under the bird.


One big tip I will give you is do not use flash when photographing wildlife at dawn or dusk as it tends to ruin the “golden hour” light.


When photographing wildlife, we often take several photos in rapid succession to capture sequences of action, but if your flash is powered only by the batteries in the flash head, it is impossible to do because it can take several seconds to recharge. To get around this problem you have to use an external battery supply. You might also need a proper cable that connects the external battery supply to your flash. Using this kind of outfit you will find that you will need several batteries and I find rechargeable batteries, especially, typical, it’s the dear ones that recharge the flash quicker than normal ones.

Photo of a setup similar to mine


Does using flash scare wildlife? Well my honest answer is I don’t know but in my experience, I have used flash on several occasions, I have never seen any detrimental effects to wildlife when I have used it. No wildlife has ever run away or flown away when I have used flash. That’s something I cannot say when I have taken photos with one of my old cameras with the motor drive on, it was louder than a machine gun. Happy hunting (with a camera)


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Acorn Lodge Bed & Breakfast Better Beamer Dartmoor Dartmoor Devon Devon Does using flash scare wildlife Kingfisher Linnets Meadow pipits Mistle thrush Wheatear Willow warbler Wimberley flash brackets Yellowhamer adjustable flash brackets artefacts artefacts in the image background backlit brighten up your image buzzard buzzard being harassed by a crow camera camera equipment camera settings camera's flash sync speed camera's hot shoe camera's sensor catchlight to the eye of your wildlife correctly exposed cropped camera crow cuckoo dealing with red eye or steel eye detail in the shadows double exposure electronic flash expose expose to the right exposing exposing to the right exposure external battery fill in flash flash flash brackets flash extender flash for wildlife photography flash sync speed flash to illuminate the background flashguns full frame camera golden hour green eye high speed sync flash image is too contrasty images of a Willow warbler lens lenses mistle thrush nature nature reserve off-shoe cord photo photo of a cuckoo photographing wildlife at dawn or dusk photography post processing post production problems with electronic flash red eye reserve second flash to illuminate the background sensor shadows shutter speed steel eye take a photo telephoto lenses thrush underexposed using electronic flash as a fill in using flash using flash for wildlife photography wildlife wildlife photography Fri, 03 Jun 2016 10:51:57 GMT
Cuckoos, Tawny Owlets, my Nature Reserve and Changes to my Wildlife Photography Blog Over the last few evenings I have been walking my dog on a certain part of Dartmoor Devon England where I last saw the Cuckoo. Each evening I have seen and heard it flying around the area but it appears to settle for the night in some trees on a farm just off the moor. I went to the farm to ask for permission to stand in their field and take photos. They said they would get back to me but as yet I have had no reply. One thing I will never do is trespass on any persons land to get a photo so I always ask for permission. If the answer is yes then great, happy days, but if the answer is no then so be it. I'll be disappointed as I don't understand a negative reply because I am not doing any harm but the bottom line is it is their land and I will abide by their decision and try and get an image elsewhere. When I lived in Bedfordshire I asked several land owners for permission and they always gave it but down in Devon most of the replies seem to be no!


Upon driving home from my visit to the moor the other night I came across a “furry bundle” in the middle of the road. I stopped and got out to move it away from the road before it got run over. I could see the baby Tawny owlet had fluff from its neck upwards but its wings and talons were fully grown, talons which can do a lot of damage. Because it was a baby tawny owlet I kept my wits about me as the parents would be about and could “dive bomb” me and this is how the famous wildlife photographer, Eric Hosking OBE, got injured and lost an eye ( I held my hat above my head but as I got closer to it, it decided to take off, fly into the hedge and start climbing a tree. As long as it was off the road I was happy as it was reasonably safe. Upon returning to the car I noticed that one of the parents flew and landed in the tree that the owlet was climbing. Whilst speaking to the land owner’s wife later she informed me that there were at least two tawny owlets, one large that could fly and a very small one that could not. The small one was hiding in the hedge right under its nest which was in a hole in a tree.


The only thing I can add to the wildlife list on our nature reserve this week is butterflies of which there are lots. I'm afraid I am ignorant of their names but its great watching them. The flowers in the field are disappearing as the grasses are quite tall now. We have had quite a bit of sunshine recently and with a little bit of rain the vegetation has shot up. The Jays are still present as well as the Otter although we have yet to see it but we know it's about due to the foot prints. The badgers are still there but there has been no sign of the fox. Apart from putting, I can't call it building; stones on the wall, work on the nature reserve has come to a halt due to the amount of vegetation and leaf cover. So I will just have to go there, sit and observe and take in what happens on the reserve and report it back to you.


Over the last few weeks I have had some feedback, about my wildlife photography blog, from a few people who have stated that they would like me to include some images within the blog. I have thought about this for a while now, putting my teacher head on, because people learn in different ways. There are several ways, or styles, of learning: - Visual, Physical, Aural, Verbal, Logical, Social and Solitary.


Visual (Spatial) - This style is where people learn by using pictures, images, diagrams etc.


Physical (Kinaesthetic) - This style is where people learn by actually doing something, most adults learn this way.


Aural (Auditory Musical) - This style is where people learn by sound, music, rhymes etc.


Verbal (Linguistic) - This style is where people learn by talking, reading and writing.


Logical (Mathematical) - This style is where people learn by logic and reasoning.


Social (Interpersonal) - This style is where people learn by interacting with other people and groups.


Solitary (Intrapersonal) - This style is where people learn by being on their own where they do their own studying.


People will not just have one style of learning; they might prefer one but go to another style at various times when it suits. It's good to know your own style as this will help you learn quicker. When teachers are researching and planning their lessons they should try and include as many of the styles as they can so that all the students can take on learning in their own style. So if you look at the above styles my blog is possibly only including a few: - Verbal, Logical, Social (possible) and Solitary. Therefore if I include images within my blog then I am including another style, visual. Aural could be included if I put backing music to the blog but I don't think my website does this. Physical could be included if you came to my workshop and I showed you what to do and then you repeated the process.


So if I know all this then why did I not include images from the beginning, well because of the problem we all have, lack of time. Things that take up my time are: - I am still at work, working 10 hours a day. I have also got a dog that needs his 3 - 4 walks a day. We have recently moved down to Devon and the house needs a lot of work to bring it up to how we want it. My wife and I also have finished renovating an annex for her Bed & Breakfast business at Acorn Lodge on Dartmoor in Devon. ( Post processing my images. I need / want to do some wildlife photography. Reconnaissance of areas for my wildlife photography. Carrying out research and writing my blog. Working on my nature reserve and all the usual mundane day to day jobs. You all know that there are not enough hours in a day to do what we want to do. Because of all of the above I find it hard to find the time to do extra post processing on images for the blog. Therefore I have decided to change my blog style and will only post wildlife photography hints and tips every other week rather than every week. This, I hope, will give me the time to post process a couple of images that can be inserted into the blog. It will also mean that I can increase the word count for the wildlife photography hints and tips within the blog to help explain some things better.

If you have any comments about this change please use the comment link above or below and tell me what you think.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Acorn Lodge Acorn Lodge on Dartmoor in Devon Auditory Aural Bed & Breakfast Bedfordshire Cuckoo Dartmoor Dartmoor Devon Dartmoor Devon England Dartmoor in Devon