The Waxwings are in Town!

Waxwing, North Camp Station

Waxwing, North Camp Station

Ever since Chris Packham plotted the Waxwing invasion on Autumnwatch a couple of years back I’ve been fascinated by these beautiful birds. If the berry crop fails in Scandanavia then they’ll make the pilgrimage across the North Sea and feed on our Rowan and Pyracantha. I didn’t think I’d be in with a chance of seeing them, but then around January/February my brother told me they were feeding off the apple tree outside his house! For whatever reason I was never able to get over to photograph them, but then not long after they turned up at the end of my garden. It was just a passing visit unfortunately, but I did manage to get a couple of shots a little later, in March, when I was photographing Grebes at Basingstoke Canal. They were high up in a tree, so the shots weren’t great, and ever since I’ve been keen to get some decent ones in the bag.

Waxwing, North Camp Station

Waxwing, North Camp Station

Last year there wasn’t much of an invasion, but this winter seems to be far better. Reports started showing up on the Surrey Bird Club site of them making an appearance in Ewell, then it was Woking, and then finally in Farnborough, at North Camp Station. It seemed too good to be true to have such an exotic looking bird in that most unlikely of wildlife havens that is ‘Norf Camp’.

The week they arrived the weather was, for the most part, pretty awful, but on the 30th the rain stopped, the sun came out, and I made the five minute journey to the station. When I got there around 30+ waxwings were feeding off the berries, but they very soon departed, and then the rain came in. With a little time on my hands I was prepared to wait this one out, along with around a dozen or so other photographers all with their long lenses and tripods. When I got talking to them it turned out a couple of them were photographers I was familiar with on flickr, namely Aaron Gee and Mark Slokey, so it was good to finally meet them.

Waxwing, North Camp Station

Waxwing, North Camp Station

The rain passed off, and not long after the waxwings returned, and this time they stuck around for an hour or so, perching high up on a tree on the opposite side of the road, before all flocking to the berry trees to feed. They spooked pretty easy, and all quickly returned to the safety of the opposite side, but the lure of the berries was too much for them, and every time they flew in they were greeted with the sound of a dozen shutters all firing off continuously!

Two Waxwing, North Camp Station

Two Waxwing, North Camp Station

Waxwing, North Camp Station

The contrast of the black hoarding works well here to separate the bird from the background.

Although the blue skies didn’t return I wasn’t too bothered, I was very happy to get to photograph them at such close quarters. It was sod’s law that the next day, New Year’s Eve, it was a clear day with blue skies, but unfortunately I had a prior engagement. I was still tempted to make a quick diversion, but decided my marriage was more important! Still, at least I’ll have something to aim for next year…

Redwing, North Camp Station

Redwing, North Camp Station. Although I was there for the Waxwing, I think this shot is probably my best from the day. Another attractive visitor from Scandanavia that we only see this time of year.

2012 in a nutshell

London Skyline from the Hogs Back, Guildford

London Skyline from the Hogs Back, Guildford. The Shard was on my hit list for this year but I hadn’t imagined a shot quite like this. I had no idea London was even visible from here, until I pulled out the long lens to focus on a line of buildings in the distance!

If 2011 was a great year then 2012 has been out of this world! The highlight was of course receiving the Runner-Up Award in the Landscape Photographer of the Year Classic View, a long held dream that finally came true. My main aim was just to get in the book, so to receive a runner-up, and then Judges Choice from Charlie Waite, was just incredible. The awards evening was very special, and I got to shake hands with Charlie. A couple of weeks later Joe Cornish visited my neck of the woods to do a talk, so in the space of a month I saw two ‘Galactico’s’ of photography! It’s fair to say Joe has been a huge influence on me over the years so it was great to finally see him.

The Pier, Weston Super Mare

This was my other shortlisted entry in the Landscape Photographer of the Year. Didn’t make it all the way, but I wasn’t complaining.

I was also shortlisted in the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards with a couple of images, but sadly neither made the final cut. It would’ve been fantastic to have got into both books, but not to be. I’ll keep trying though!

Red Deer Stag, Richmond Park, Surrey

I was quite surprised this was shortlisted over a couple of my other Stag shots that I personally felt were better, there’s just no accounting for judges’ taste!

Great Crested Grebe with Chicks, Basingstoke Canal

My other shortlisted entry in the British Wildlife Photography Awards. Note to self – more cute pictures in future.

Just to round the year out one of my images appeared on BBC’s The One Show, on the 13th December. Matt Baker and Alex Jones had John Craven in the studio and so asked for viewers to send in images for John to judge. Not one to miss an opportunity I sent a couple in and to my astonishment they displayed my ‘Stag Breath’ shot!

Stag Breath on the BBC's One Show

Stag Breath on the BBC’s One Show, 13th December 2012.

Then as a final send off for the year Hampshire County Magazine used one of my shots from Longstock on the cover of their magazine, January 2013 edition. In mid December. Never quite understood that.

Hampshire County Cover

Hampshire County Jan 2013 Cover Photograph.

Goals in 2012

Looking back at some of the goals I’d set myself at the end of last year, I have managed to get through quite a few of them. I finally managed to get a couple of decent shots of the Long Tailed Tits in the garden, and an extra bonus was the arrival of the Redwings for a couple of days. They’d been visitors at our old house for a couple of winters but I hadn’t managed to get any decent shots, so it was great to finally get some. The Blackcap still eludes me though! Further afield, I made a few trips down to Papercourt Meadows to shoot the Short Eared Owls, and although I got one semi decent shot, I don’t really feel I’ve done them justice yet. I was hoping to get down to Papercourt again this winter, but so far it appears they haven’t visited, but you never know.

Grey Wagtail with Mayfly, Frensham Little Pond, Surrey

Grey Wagtail with Mayfly, Frensham Little Pond, Surrey. This was a finalist in the White Lion Walk Photo Competition, but lost out to a shot of poppies.

I also managed to get some decent shots of a few species on my wanted list, namely Lapwings, Little Grebes, Swallows and Grey Wagtail. I entered the Grey Wagtail shot in the local White Lion Walk photography competition, where it made it to the final, but no cigar on this occasion! This year I discovered the delights of Wisley Gardens, and whilst there was lucky enough to photograph a family of Little Grebes with their 4 chicks very late in the season. Having barely a sighting of a Little Grebe last year, this year they appeared to be just about everywhere I went! Wisley is also great for seeing Goldcrest, another that I hope to tick off the list in 2013.

Little Grebes, Wisley Gardens, Surrey

Little Grebes, Wisley Gardens, Surrey.

Last year I spent a lot of time photographing the Great Crested Grebes. This year I decided to concentrate on heathland birds. Surrey is famed for it’s precious heathland habitat, and in my quest to highlight local wildlife it seemed the natural choice. The Dartford Warbler was high on my wanted list, but in the three or four visits I made to Thursley Common it eluded me. Photographing heathland birds was a lot harder than I’d anticipated. Getting close enough was perhaps the biggest problem. I spent 3 or 4 hours attempting to photograph Stonechats, but just couldn’t get close enough. I did manage to photograph a number of new (for me) species, namely Whitethroat, Linnet, Reed Bunting and Whinchat. However, the highlight for me was seeing and photographing Redstart, really quite stunning birds, another high on my wanted list, and a bird that until this year I didn’t even know were found this far south. Now I know where to find them I’ll be back next year to give it a proper go. Another highlight was the Hobby, Thursley is great in May/June for seeing them as they feed on the abundant dragonflies. Seeing them pluck the dragonflies out of the air and eating them in mid flight is highly recommended!

Hobby, Thursley Common, Surrey

A Hobby catches a dragonfly in midflight, Thursley Common, Surrey.

Redstart, Thursley Common, Surrey

Male Redstart bringing food for one of its young, Thursley Common, Surrey. I love these birds, just stunning.

I had planned to visit Gigrin Farm for the Red Kites. I didn’t make it Gigrin, but was lucky enough to get to the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre near Aberystwyth whilst holidaying in Wales to see the Red Kites there. It had to be one of the highlights of the year for me, absolutely amazing to see so many Red Kites all in one place. Stunning birds in a stunning setting, I can’t urge anyone enough to go there and experience it for themselves. Didn’t make Skomer though for the Puffins, so it’s on my list still for next year!

Come late September/early October I once again made a couple of visits to Richmond Park for the Stag rut and once again got some shots that I’m really happy with. A couple made Flickr Explore, and then subsequently one made it onto the Flickr Blog. My page hits then went through the roof, I had over 4,000 hits on one day in particular, it just went quite mad! I’ve since had a Spanish online publication contact me about running a feature on how I came to make the shot, so I’ll post up a link when it goes live.

Mayfield Lavender, Banstead, Surrey

Mayfield Lavender, Banstead, Surrey. This made Flickr Explore, which was nice.

Rapeseed Field, Gomshall, Surrey

Rapeseed Field, Gomshall, Surrey

Denbies Vineyard, Dorking, Surrey

Denbies Vineyard, Dorking, Surrey. After nearly killing myself running the full length of the vineyard to be in position for the sunset, I lucked out with a nice pink afterglow in the sky.

My Surrey/Hampshire project went well, there were basically 4 shots on my wanted list – rapeseed field, lavender field, poppy field and vineyard. The only one I didn’t manage out of those 4 was the poppy field, so next year I’m determined to nail it. I’d also been keen to get back down to Lepe and Longstock, and managed to tick both of those off the list.

'The Dolphins', Lepe Beach, Hants

‘The Dolphins’, Lepe Beach, Hants

Fishing Huts and Eel Traps at Longstock on the River Test

Fishing Huts and Eel Traps at Longstock on the River Test. This was one of the first really hard frosts of the winter, and the morning light was pretty special too.

The workshops with Doug Chinnery went very well. First up was a Camera to Computer Workshop in Weston-Super-Mare in February, and second was a Long Exposure Workshop in Brighton in June. I’d long wanted to get some shots of the West Pier there, and I think they were my most successful from the day. More recently I revisited Brighton in the hope of capturing the Starling Murmurations. They didn’t really put on much of a show unfortunately, but the sunset was stunning, so it was far from a wasted trip. With the winnings from LPOTY I was able to sell my 500D and finally upgrade to a 7D, courtesy of ebay, and Brighton was it’s first outing. Although I’m still getting used to it, I’m excited about the opportunities it opens up.

Aims for 2013

Seeing some of the winning entries from LPOTY I’ve been inspired to get out and do more landscapes. I loved Alex Nail’s shot of Pen-y-Fan, so I’m determined to get up a mountain or two and attempt to capture some dramatic mountain scenes. Inspired by the work of Paul Keene and Omer Ahmed I’m keen to get out and shoot some frosty and snowy scenes. I’m also yet to witness a cloud inversion so I think I might be making a trip or two to the South Downs in hope. I loved Simon Park’s storm shot, even if he did keep me off the top spot(!), and would love to get some extreme weather shots if the opportunity arises.

On the wildlife front I feel I need to broaden my scope and capture a few more species. I would love to shoot the Mountain Hares in the Peak District, but I’m not sure funds will allow it. I think a trip to the east coast might be on the cards to see the seals though. Maybe even otters too, although I need to put in some research. Returning to more familiar subjects, the Short Eared and Barn Owls are still very much a priority, and I’m sure I’ll also return to my favourites, the deer at Richmond Park. I’d love to get some shots in the snow if I can to round out my portfolio. Whatever happens I’ll look forward to what 2013 brings and can’t wait to get out with the camera to experience something new.

Thanks to anyone who’s passed by this year, I hope you all have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Landscape Photographer of the Year 2012 – Runner Up, Classic View

Beech Wood, Surrey

Runner Up, Classic View – Landscape Photographer of the Year 2012

I’m extremely proud to announce that my Beech Wood Panorama has received Runner Up in the Classic View of this years Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards. I also received ‘Judges Choice’ from lead judge Charlie Waite. It’s a dream come true for me, something I’ve been working towards for a long time, and at the moment it feels quite surreal. To receive Charlie Waite’s vote makes it all the more special, and whilst I’d be taking photos regardless, it’s always nice to receive such recognition.

I originally received a Highly Commended, but due to the winner being disqualified, I’ve effectively been moved up. This also means I now receive £500 prize money, which is another nice bonus.

Craig Denford shaking hands with Charlie Waite

Shaking hands with Charlie Waite. I’m not a tall man, but I’m a little taller than the 3 foot 8 I appear to be here. Either that or Charlie is 8 foot 11.

I attended the Private Viewing at the National Theatre on the 12th November. It was a great evening, and very inspiring to see all the winning entries up on the wall. I was relieved to see my print looked great, printed out at a metre and a half wide! Unfortunately it printed out a little dark in the book, but thankfully at the exhibition it was far truer to the original.

Craig Denford at the National Theatre Landscape Photographer of the Year 2012 Exhibition

Trying to look inconspicuous, whilst admiring my own print on the wall!

Amateur Photographer magazine published a number of the winning entries in the November 6th edition, and I was lucky enough to get my shot featured in the Highly Commended section. It also appeared as the lead shot in the Royal Photographic Society magazine feature on the awards. Altogether it’s been a great experience and is all the encouragement I need to continue what I’m doing.

For anyone interested in having this shot hanging on their wall you can now purchase a quality canvas print here.

Middle Aged Stag Spreading through Dorset

Avocet Flocking, Brownsea Island

Avocet Flocking, Brownsea Island

First there was the annual membership to the Royal Horticultural Society. Then there was the wearing of green Dunlop wellies without a care. I even started noticing the flowers on roundabouts. Middle age was well and truly here. As if I was in any doubt, the final nail in the coffin was travelling down this weekend to Poole on a Stag Do that was actually a two day birding extravaganza, or to give it it’s proper title ‘Boo’s Big Birding Bonanza’. Ryan had finally decided to tie the knot, and rather than a booze fuelled weekend in Serbia taking in strip joints he instead elected to indulge his passion for birds, along with Euan, Mike, John and myself. Just Mad.

As we drove down on Friday afternoon, the heavens opened and it didn’t look too promising at all, but we hoped that the forecast for sun on the Saturday would hold true. Ryan had booked a great bungalow at Bestwall Park near Wareham, overlooking a lake that backed on to the estuary. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for accommodation in the area, it couldn’t be better positioned, especially if you’re into your birds. Every morning, or at least every morning we were there, a barn owl would fly across the lake bang on 7 o’clock. Walking around the lake we saw a buzzard, a kingfisher, black tailed godwits and a large number of smaller birds. In the evening all the starlings gather on the masts of the boats that are moored there. On the lake itself are many coots, with both Great Crested and Little Grebes to keep the coots honest. We even found a snake under a heavy pipe just outside the back door. You can find out more about the bungalow here.

Brownsea Island

Avocets, Brownsea Island

Avocets, Brownsea Island

By Saturday morning the rain had stopped and after a big fry up we headed to Poole and got on the boat across to Brownsea Island. The weather very soon cleared up and for the rest of the day the sun was out. Our first stop were the hides overlooking the lagoon, and I was hoping to get some more shots of the Avocets. I wasn’t disappointed, there were a number of them feeding very close to the hide and I was able to get a few nice ones. The others had by this time moved onto the main hide that juts out into the lagoon, and I could see a little egret feeding very close to it, so I hot footed it over and managed to get a number of the egret before it flew off.

Little Egret, Brownsea Island

Little Egret, Brownsea Island

We then made our way to the feeders at the Villa to try and get some shots of the Red Squirrels. The Nuthatches were making good use of the feeders, and I was concentrating so hard on them, that I didn’t notice the Red Squirrel two yards in front of me scaling the tree!

Nuthatch, Brownsea Island

Nuthatch at the Villa, Brownsea Island

Red Squirrel, Brownsea Island

Red Squirrel, shot by the Villa, Brownsea Island

Leaping Red Squirrel, Brownsea Island

Leaping Red Squirrel, Brownsea Island

After an hour or so of crouching at the base of the tree I decided it was time to try a couple of other locations so moved on out of the DWT reserve and headed up the trail to see if I could have any success at the spot where I’d photographed them the year before. As I reached the brow of the hill it looked perfect, there was still some colourful heather, all I needed was a squirrel to sit on the brow of the hill and I’d have the perfect shot. And then a squirrel did indeed appear, just where I wanted him. Did I get him? Errr, no. A slight panic ensued where I tried to get him in frame and focus, but by the time I had he’d seen me and was gone. Damn. Despite waiting another half hour or so, he never came back and I had to admit defeat.

As I followed the trail round I came to the opening where there was still some heather in bloom. A peahen and her two chicks were there and promptly raced up to me. A benny hill style chase then ensued as I continually tried to get far enough back to photograph them whilst they continually tried to hunt me down looking for food.

Peahen and Chick, Brownsea Island

Peahen and Chick, Brownsea Island

After all that I felt it was finally time for a visit to the Cafe, so off I went and had a very nice
cheese and chutney sandwich and cappuccino. Whilst on the phone to Euan I spotted another squirrel that had scaled the wall and was heading toward the feeder. I quickly cut Euan short and lay on the grass for the next 15 minutes waiting for the squirrel to come back down off the feeder and across the grass. This was one hungry squirrel, he just stayed in the tree, and once more had to admit defeat and meet up with the others to get the ferry back.

Starlings on the Mast, Wareham

Starlings on the Mast, Bestwall Park, Wareham

I couldn’t complain though as I’d got some great shots and was more than happy. That night we went into Wareham to the Quay Inn and had a good meal, and got treated to Wareham’s finest in the shape of ‘Professional Singer/Songwriter’ Martin Pitt. At least that’s what the promotional poster said. After he’d crucified Phil Collins ‘In the Air Tonight’ we felt compelled to leave and fortunately made it back in time for Match of the Day. The moon was large in the sky and almost orange, so I couldn’t resist getting the camera out when I got back. There was also a beautiful mist over the lake and I began to get excited about what tomorrow might hold. As I walked back inside I banged straight into the glass pane that I thought was the open door and clattered my head hard! One too many methinks!

The Moon

The Moon

The next morning the need to wee was all consuming and when I got up I could see the most beautiful sunrise with a heavy mist over the lake. I quickly threw some clothes on and headed out to capture it. Amazing.

Sunrise over the Lake, Wareham

Sunrise over the Lake, Wareham

Euan and I then headed round the lake and managed to creep along so as not to disturb the Black Tailed Godwits feeding in the morning light.

Black Tailed Godwit, Wareham

Black Tailed Godwit, Bestwall Park, Wareham

RSPB Arne

Thorns, RSPB Arne

Thorns, RSPB Arne

After another fry up and clearing out the bungalow we headed to RSPB Arne. It was pretty quiet and there wasn’t a lot to see, most the action was by the feeders at the car par, with Nuthatches, Chaffinches, Great Tits, Blue Tits and a Woodpecker all making an appearance.

Lichen Covered Trees, RSPB Arne

Lichen Covered Trees, RSPB Arne

After doing a circuit on the right hand side of the reserve we then made our way to the hide, on the way bumping into Simon King carrying a large camera over his shoulder. There wasn’t much to see from the hide so I headed over to the right where there was a herd of Sika Deer. I managed to get pretty close, and although initially they were wary they soon decided I wasn’t a threat and ignored me.

Sika Stag, RSPB Arne

Sika Stag, RSPB Arne. Simon King had disappeared somewhere off to the right.

Sika Stag, RSPB Arne

Sika Stag, RSPB Arne. Think he’d maybe come off worse in a rut, his eye looked in a bit of a sorry state.

On the way back we came across a lone young Stag who seemed pretty chilled with our presence. His demeanour changed when a large Stag ran up behind him, leaped over a barbed wire fence and headed straight for another Stag that was moving in on his harem. He soon saw him off and calm was restored.

After what must’ve been 5 or so hours on our feet we made it back to the car park. By now I was completely spent and promptly had a nap in the car on the way home.

A great weekend had by all, many thanks to Ryan for organising it all, and I’ll look forward to next years visit! Now where’s that Argos catalogue, I need to buy myself a nose hair trimmer.

Richmond Park 2012

Richmond Pond in the Mist

Richmond Pond in the Mist

After my success last year I couldn’t wait for the annual deer rut to come round again. Just as with last year I thought I’d go up a week or two early to try my luck, especially with a bright, clear morning forecast. With the sun set to rise at 6.45 I set the alarm for 5 o’clock and headed out. I didn’t have to go far for my first wildlife experience of the day. As I walked to the car something shuffled behind the car on the opposite side of the road. I assumed it must be a fox but as it emerged the other side it was in fact a badger! Quite possibly the first I’d seen that wasn’t lying dead on the side of a road. I had no idea there were badgers in my culdesac, now I’m dying to know where the set is. Possibly in number 22’s front drive, who knows.

When I arrived it seemed that the hoped for mist wouldn’t materialise, but as I headed for the pond there was a nice layer of mist hanging over that was beginning to spread.

London Skyline from Richmond Park

London Skyline from Richmond Park. Looked absolutely stunning, like something out of Mega City Four, and I wasn’t about to pass it by. I just can’t get enough of the Shard, it’s an awesome building. This is a stitch of 3 photographs

As the sun rose the pond looked absolutely beautiful so I swapped lenses and got a few as the sun broke through the mist. I was in a real dilemna, there were many opportunities at the pond, but the great light wouldn’t last for long and I was here to photograph the deer.

Swan, Richmond Pond

Swan, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park.

Canada Geese, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park

Canada Geese, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park

So after grabbing a couple of shots of Swans and Geese I headed in the direction of the bellowing. As things weren’t in full swing there wasn’t too much to go after, but as a stag emerged from the mist behind the pond myself and 2 or 3 other photographers all descended on it, which sent it packing in the direction of away. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Heron, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park

Heron, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park. A perfect Heron shot has always eluded me so when I saw one posing nicely on the pond I headed back. I’ve always wanted to get one in flight. It was sod’s law that as soon as I turned my back to photograph a stag behind me the heron took flight. One day.

Mute Swans, Richmond Park

Mute Swans flying in formation, Richmond Park

The shot I’d had in my mind of a Stag emerging from the mist, bathed in the rich, golden first light had by this time, along with the mist, evaporated. Undeterred I solderied on hoping to catch something that might compensate. I’d failed last year to get a single decent shot of a fallow deer so it was quite nice to get the shot below.

Fallow Deer, Richmond Park

Fallow Deer, Richmond Park

Deer with Jackdaw pecking its ears, Richmond Park

The jackdaw was having a really good go at this young deer’s head and ears, but the deer, far from being annoyed, looked to be in heaven. Occasionally the jackdaw would go too far and find itself shaken off, but he was very persistent. A nice bit of behaviour to witness and photograph.

Deer and Jackdaw, Richmond Park

Ouch!

Stag, Richmond Park

Puffing Stag, Richmond Park

By now the best of the light was gone and I headed home. I actually felt a little disappointed on the way home, but reviewing the shots I actually think the morning was quite a success.

There was, of course, still that niggle that I hadn’t got what I was after, so I returned the following weekend. The forecast for the Sunday was for a clear start clouding over soon after, so there was a small window of opportunity, and despite a tiring Saturday wandering around Peppa Pig World (not on my own I might point out) I knew I had to give it a go.

The sunrise was beautiful, and although there was absolutely no mist to speak of there was at least going to be some sun. I met  a young photographer by the name of Yusuf Akhtar, and together we headed down the hill and turned right toward the clearing to the right of the pond. A large stag with an impressive bellow was in full view. As we tried to get in front of it it continued onward and it felt for a while as if it was going to be fruitless. Eventually however, he came to rest amongst a small group of younger Stags. It must have been the local Stag hangout. I was then able to get the Stag in front of me with the fast rising Sun behind, and he duly obliged with a few more impressive bellows.

Stag Breath, Richmond Park, Surrey

Stag Breath, Richmond Park, Surrey

More Stag Breath, Richmond Park

More Stag Breath, Richmond Park

Bingo! It was quite an adrenaline rush knowing I had the image in my head playing out before me, so I was very relieved to find I’d got it, and got it sharp. The first of the two images in particular has been very successful. Both made Flickr Explore, and then the first was featured in the Flickr Blog, which saw it’s hits go through the roof. It’s currently had over 4,000 views, by far my most successful image to date.

North Wales

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

I must confess that when I suggested North Wales as a possible holiday destination it wasn’t entirely with the kids’ sole interests at heart. Clare, long since used to my not so hidden agenda, and with a certain sense of resignation, duly obliged and booked a week in a log cabin in Bronaber, on the southern tip of Snowdonia National Park. I’d been to this part of the world before (see here), but I was keen this time to see some of the fantastic wildlife on offer too. Here are some of the photographic highlights. I could bore you with tales of our trips to the beach but I’m not sure you want to hear it.

Glaslyn Osprey Project

Inspired by Iolo Williams Wild Wales series I was keen to see the Ospreys, so first on the agenda was a trip to the Glaslyn Osprey Project. Although we did get to see them through a very powerful scope, there wasn’t really the opportunity to photograph them up close. Talking to one of the volunteers there, they may well lose their funding next year, so I’d urge anyone to pay them a visit and register your support.

Trawsfynydd Lake

Perhaps the most striking feature of this lake is the whacking great nuclear power station positioned down one end. Thankfully it’s a very big lake and so from the south end you can’t see it at all. I ventured out the first evening when the conditions looked promising, and as it was a mile from our cabin it didn’t take long to get there. It was still a bit of a panic getting set up in time though but I managed to get it in the bag just before the sun disappeared behind the hill.

Trawsfynydd Lake

Trawsfynydd Lake, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Mist at Bronaber, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Mist at Bronaber, Snowdonia National Park, Wales. Returning from Trawsfynydd Lake I was confronted by this. It was going to be a long night.

I then returned a couple of nights later and pointed the camera in the opposite direction. The tree and stone wall were too good to ignore and the great light didn’t hurt either. I then headed out into the mountains and found the view below in time for sunset.

Trawsfynydd Lake, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Trawsfynydd Lake, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Whinchat, Trawsfynydd Lake, Wales

Whinchat, Trawsfynydd Lake, Wales. I’d attempted, without success to photograph the numerous Swallows that reside by the lake. Then I spotted this Whinchat sitting motionless in the field. She very obligingly waited long enough until I was sure I had a sharp one to take home.

Rolling Hills, Snowdonia National Park

Rolling Hills, Snowdonia National Park

Beaumaris

No holiday is complete for me without a boat trip, and so with the promise of puffins and seals we headed to Beaumaris in Anglesey to hop aboard the Puffin Island cruise. Being August however, all the puffins had gone but there were at least a few seals on show, not to mention quite a few cormorant, and I even spotted a couple of sandwich tern. Beaumaris itself is very pretty and well worth a visit, definitely worth the journey.

Swallow, Beaumaris, Anglesey, Wales

There’s an awful lot of Swallows in Wales. Photographing them in flight is extremely difficult. Photographing them whilst perched on a telegraph line, not so difficult.

The Red Kites of Ceredigion

Nine miles east of Aberystwyth on the A44, in the bottom of a beautiful valley, sits the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre. Every day, at 3pm, they feed the Red Kites. I’d long been fascinated by these beautiful birds, and although I’d dragged the family off the beach and made them sit in a hot, sweaty car for almost 2 panic stricken hours behind a tractor that wouldn’t go over 30 on a road that allowed for no overtaking, I only felt a slight twinge of guilt. We just made it just in time and I rushed down the hill to a beautiful lake where on the opposite bank they were laying out the food. Around 100 or so kites were circling up above, and then one by one began swooping down to pick up the meat. It was absolutely awesome, a real spectacle, and one I won’t forget for a while. It took a while to get in the groove, it was sod’s law that despite clear skies all day, the moment I got the camera out the clouds came in. I had to resort to ISO 800 to freeze the action, not ideal, but you can at least sort out the noise later, but with blurred, noise free shots, you’re kind of left with nothing.

Leucistic Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Leucistic Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Little Grebes, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Swooping Red Kites in the background. Little Grebe feeding chick with a newt in the foreground. I admit I was quite torn.

Leucistic Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales

Leucistic Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales. Not to be confused with an albino bird. I heard someone say there’s only eight of these in the world. I have no idea whether there’s any truth in that but he certainly was rather special. Or she.

I have to say I can’t speak highly enough of this visitor centre. Aside from a very reasonable £1.50 for parking it’s free to get in, it’s an absolutely stunning setting and there’s even an adventure playground for the kids while you disappear off. On top of that they have a large feeder up by the cafe where you’ll see a number of species including chaffinch, greenfinch, siskin, coal tits, nuthatch and even redpoll.

Greenfinch, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales

Greenfinch, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales. Having struggled to photograph the Greenfinch that occasionally visits our back garden I wasn’t going to look this particular gift horse in the mouth.

Chaffinch, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales

Chaffinch, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales. For a long time I didn’t have a decent Chaffinch shot in the bag, now they seem to pop up everywhere I look.

A great end to a great week, it certainly won’t be too long before I return here again.

London Wild Bird Watch 2012

Heron

Heron with a Newt, London Wetlands Centre, Barnes

I went up to the London Wild Bird Watch event at the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes today along with a few birder friends, Ryan and Euan, along with Euan’s neighbours John and Shelagh. In the car on the way up they tried to convince me that they were birders, not twitchers. Whatever. Mind you, I’m usually met with the same response. It was a beautiful morning, so upon arrival I obeyed my first rule, to strike while the iron is hot, and got straight out with the camera, conscious of the fact that the weather was forecast to close in come the afternoon. I headed along the South Route, making my way directly to the Wader Scrape Hide at the far end.  The Scrape is quite sheltered, not least by the Sand Martin bank to the left, giving a nice flat, reflective water surface. Definitely don’t want choppy conditions if I can help it. I was rewarded with a Lapwing and a Redshank feeding in the shallows.

Lapwing

Lapwing at the Wader Scrape, London Wetland Centre

I think Lapwings are beautiful and unique looking birds, and I’ve been wanting to capture one for a while so this was one off the list. The Redshank was a nice bonus.

Redshank, Wader Scrape,  LWC

Redshank, Wader Scrape, London Wetland Centre

Redshank and Lapwing, Wader Scrape, LWC

At one point the pair of them crossed paths. Nice.

Then as luck would have it I noticed the Little Grebe very close to the hide. Another off my wanted list.

Little Grebe, Wader Scrape, LWC

Little Grebe, Wader Scrape, London Wetland Centre

Returning back to the Cafe a group of people were huddled round some old wood. Turns out there were a few Common Lizards sunning themselves. Time to obey the second rule, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. So despite the fact we were all supposed to be meeting up for lunch I got the tripod out and began setting up…

Common Lizard, LWC

If this were a snake then the 'S' would be really relevant and would show what a great conceptualist I was. But its a Lizard. Unfortunately.

As if the Lizards weren’t enough (I know, I was beside myself) I then spotted some beautiful fritillaries. What’s more there were bees collecting pollen from them. Rule number two kicked in again.

Fritillary with a Bee collecting pollen

Fritillary with a Bee collecting pollen

Fritillaries, LWC

Fritillaries under more subtle light, London Wetland Centre

All these distractions meant that by the time I’d got back to the Cafe my ‘friends’ had finished their lunch and got up. At the time I blamed it on the rain that had begun to fall, but in retrospect I think it was resentment that I know all twitchers feel toward photographers. They would never admit it of course, but they seemed mighty keen to lose me. Ah well, people say I’m paranoid… I know they do.

Undeterred, we all headed off together to the main marquee to hear a very interesting talk from Simon King. Simon spoke passionately about maintaining the enthusiasm for nature in the coming generations, before moving on to some of his favourite subjects, foxes and otters. I think the highlight for me though were the live webcams watching over the Peregrine Falcons nesting in Charing Cross, a stone’s throw from the Wetland Centre. He then topped it off by bringing on a captive Peregrine to the stage, a stunning bird. Throughout the talk the rain thundered down on the marquee roof to such an extent it made it difficult to hear at times! We’d done well to get out in the morning as conditions had definitely taken a turn for the worse.

After the talk we had a good look round the stalls, of particular interest to me was Oliver Smart’s stand, some stunning photography, definitely worth checking out if you get the chance. The sharpness and detail blew me away. I avoided the Canon stand as I knew any sudden impulse buys wouldn’t go down well with the missus. Or the bank manager.

We then headed out via the West Route and another chance to photograph Little Grebe presented itself.

Little Grebe, LWC

This little fella gave me the complete run around. Not long after this shot he dived down and quite simply never came up again. I looked everywhere but couldn't find him. He's probably still down there now.

Returning from the Wildside Hide a Heron landed very near. This could at last be my chance to get a decent Heron shot.

Heron, LWC

Getting closer to a good Heron shot, but the foreground reeds are going to annoy me every time I see this shot. Same with the shot at the top of the page, without the foreground reeds it would be damn fine shot.

After a final trip along the South route we headed home, just about beating the rain once more. A very enjoyable day, and glad to at last have got decent shots of Little Grebe, Heron and Lapwing. Euan seemed happy with his ‘list’, 48 species apparently. It’s a different world.

Surrey Life Cover

Surrey Life Cover, November Edition

Surrey Life Cover, November Edition

I’m very proud to say that my photo of two Red Deer Stags Rutting has made in onto the cover of the November Edition of Surrey Life magazine. It’s the realisation of one of my goals so I’m extremely chuffed. It’s the first time they’ve featured a ‘reader’s photo’ on the cover, so it’s nice to be a part of a little bit of history! The image appears again inside as part of Surrey Life’s ‘Beautiful Surrey’ feature, containing photos sent in from their readers.

It also featured in the Surrey Advertiser ‘Picture Surrey’ supplement, both on the cover and repeated again inside, so this particular image has done very well for me!

Forest Stewardship Council Competition Winner!

Bluebells, Micheldever Woods, Hampshire

Bluebells, Micheldever Woods, Hampshire

I’m very pleased and proud to say I’ve won the Forest Stewardship Council UK Summer Photo Competition! My photo of the Bluebells at Micheldever Woods one fine misty morning may have fallen at the first hurdle at the Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards but its finally come up trumps!

You can find out more information about the FSC UK and the other competition winners here.

The Deer Rut, Richmond Park, Surrey

or…how I fell fallow of the law(!)

Stags in the Mist

Stags in the Mist

Much as I enjoy bird photography I felt I was in danger of being pigeon-holed (sorry), so thought I would get myself along to Richmond Park to photograph some deer for a change. Although the rut isn’t supposed to peak until mid October I thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in and with the promise of good weather I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss. I set the alarm for 5 o’clock and headed up the M3. The mist rising from every field I passed was incredible. I got to the gates at 6.30, and as they weren’t letting cars in until 7 o’clock I decided to have a little wander round and capture the very first sunlight of the day, as the sky turned pink.

Branch in the Mist

Old Branch in the Mist

Then I headed back to the car as soon as the gates were open and started the search for deer. It didn’t take long, within a minute or two I’d found two Red Deer rutting.

Two Stag Rutting

Two Red Deer Stags Square Up

The Winner!

The Winner! I think that might be the sheepish loser retreating over to the left.

In my haste though, I’d parked the car at the side of the road and looked round to see the Met Police whacking a fine on my car. With the sun just peaking out from behind the trees I had to wrench myself away to go park the car somewhere sensible. Like a car park. I hot footed it back to the spot, feeling like I just couldn’t get there quick enough. It was like those dreams you have when you’re running on the spot and can barely move. There was about half hour of beautiful golden light. Think I successfully managed to miss most of it. I did however get this chap as he crossed my path, so every cloud and all that.

A Stag in the orange light of morning

A Stag in the orange light of morning

More rutting fun

More rutting fun. The fella in the background was an added bonus.

As I crested the brow of the hill the light was pouring through the trees creating a wonderful atmosphere, and that’s when I got the shot at the top of the page. As the sun rose higher in the sky the mist soon burnt off, and as the clouds rolled in there was a far more subdued light. I went in search of other opportunities. A number of stags were all trying to out do each other with their calls. I found the guy below giving a good account of himself in the bracken.

Stag in the Bracken

Stag in the Bracken

The loudest however, by some margin, was the fellow below. A very deep, booming voice, a bit like Brian Blessed.

The King of the, er, Park

The King of the, er, Park

After this he then went in search of some adornment for his antlers. I’m sure that would’ve impressed the ladies no end.

With a full card and flat light I resolved to return again at the first sight of a clear day. Thankfully the following week saw the hottest October on record, and so I again made the journey up the M3. The weather was perfect, with a thick mist to begin with, so thick in fact that it was difficult to find where the bellowing was coming from, and then as the sun came up there were some beautiful conditions with light filtering through the trees. The mist eventually burnt off and we were treated to some beautiful early morning light. When I say ‘we’ I mean myself and the other 200 or so photographers in the park! There were a crazy number there, and at times keeping them out of shot was quite a challenge.

Stag Head shot

This guy passed right in front of me, a little too close for comfort.

The rut really was in full swing, quite a contrast with the week before when things were just warming up. The air was thick with the sound of stags bellowing all around you. The majority of the action was taking part in a clearing, with photographers lining the edge, all vying for position.

Warm Light

The nice warm light I'd been hoping for. Nice pose too.

I got a few in the bag and then moved on to try and find opportunities elsewhere. As I made my way back to the car, I had the Stag below blocking my path. He seemed to have quite a nark on, and so I stopped in my tracks and waited. And then set the camera up. Hell, if he was going to charge I was at least going to get a decent shot. Eventually he seemed to calm down, as did my heart rate, and I returned to the car happy. And without a parking ticket this time, which was nice!

Nark On

He's got a right nark on!

Canon EF 100-400mm L Series USM Lens Plus 1.4x Extender Review

Rabbit, Centerparcs, Longleat Fores

Handheld at 400mm, f8, 320th sec.

I’ve owned this lens for almost a year now and so thought I’d put down a few thoughts I had on the lens in the hope it may be helpful to anyone thinking of purchasing it. First off, I know that being a zoom the quality won’t be up to that of a prime, but having said that my initial reaction when first using it was WOW! I’ve used Canon’s 500mm f4 L Series and yes, it is an amazing lens, but the 100-400mm isn’t that far off! The image stabilisation is incredible and has enabled me to get pin sharp images handheld at 400mm with little problem.

Prior to owning this lens I’d been using no more than a Sigma 72-300mm zoom with a Sony Alpha 200, but I realised that in order to continue my progress and make the step up I would have to get a far more capable lens. To be fair, I had managed to get the odd decent image, but successes were far less frequent than I would’ve liked. The Canon 100-400mm gives you a far greater chance of success.

Robin

Robin, shot at f9, 1000th sec with 1.4 Extender, camera resting on window ledge.

Redpoll

Shot with 1.4x Extender fitted, resting camera on a window ledge. This shows perfectly sharp images are possible with the extender, just so long as the bird keeps still!

One thing I don’t think is an issue with the Extender is the loss of a full stop. I’ve found that at f5.6 the depth of field is just too shallow. For instance, focusing on a birds eye at f5.6 will render the feet out of focus, so I always find myself using f8 with or without the extender. More recently I’ve been experimenting with f9, and I seem to be getting more reliable, and sharper, results. In summer you can get away with an ISO of anywhere between 200 to 800, but come the winter 1600 or even 3200 ISO is more likely, and then you have the problem of noise. Add a little sharpening in post and it only makes it worse. I’m currently looking at Noise Reduction Solutions, and NIK Software’s Dfine looks pretty useful.

Coal Tit

Shot at f9, 1/400th sec., ISO800 with extender fitted. f9 seems to give just that little bit more depth of field that ensures better front to back sharpness on the bird.

On the plus side, the flexibility of having a zoom comes in very useful at times. I do still dream of owning a 500mm, but there would be times when the weight and inflexibility would have meant losing shots. The ideal solution of course would be to own both! Unless I win the lottery however it’ll remain just a dream.

One thing that seems to have been made a large fuss of is the push/pull mechanism. I have to say it really is much ado about nothing, it very soon becomes second nature. For the majority of the time you’re using it at full extension anyway, its not too often your subject gets TOO close as we all know.

Kingfisher

Tripod mounted, with 1.4x Extender fitted, cable release.

To extend or not to extend?
The downside is of course the maximum focal length. 400mm is still often just not long enough, hence why I bought the 1.4x Extender. When I first purchased the kit I did a fair amount of practising in the back garden with the birds. With extender fitted, tripod mounted and a cable release, prefocusing on the perch I was able to get some sharp shots. Over time, and with a little practice I’m now able to dispense with the tripod and instead rest the camera on the ledge and still manage to get very sharp images. However, when photographing the Grebes for instance, when prefocusing is out of the question, the success rate rapidly diminishes. Because I’m using a 500D body I lose the autofocus and image stabilisation with the extender on, and so in these instances I would say go without extender and crop in post if needs be. With autofocus enabled, and set to AI Servo you’ll have a much greater chance of capturing the moment. Its also important when using AI Servo to use centre weighted metering rather than spot otherwise you’ll get some wildy differing exposures when firing off several frames in quick succession. I almost without exception set the camera to Aperture Priority and then under expose by around 2/3rds of a stop.

In summary I would most definitely recommend this lens. At just over a grand it is far more affordable than the 9 grand or so for a 500mm. If you’re wondering how it compares with the L Series 400mm Prime you may also be interested to read my article on the subject here.

Blue Tit

f9, 1/400th sec, ISO800. Check out the detail on the lichen!

Squirrel, Centerparcs, Longleat Forest

Handheld at 400mm, f8, 250th sec.

Anyway, hope my two pennies worth helps anyone who may be undecided.