20 Mar 2015

Fly Macro

In 2013 not long after the Barn Owl appearances, I discovered a photographer on a popular social photography website. His main interest lies in portraits, very close-up, of Jumping Spiders and a few other insects in America. He really inspired me into trying out Super-close Macro as it is called. He also happened to use the same brand of camera as me too. After viewing a video he had made on the equipment required, I could see it was really cheap to buy the necessary kit for this type of photography. In fact £7-15 for what are called extension tubes and about £40-50 for the old lenses.

After eventually finding the 28mm lens I needed at a non  extortionate price and being given the extension tubes as a Birthday gift. I was ready to enter into the genre of Super-close Macro. At first it was very hard and I could not see anything. This was in fact due to me being too far away from the subject I soon discovered. To actually capture the detail up close and personal, it turned out I only had to have a distance of around 50mm from the glass to the subject. This was quite unnerving at first, discovering detail suddenly, that was like that of Horror film monsters. I would jump on many occasions when the fly or other insect would appear very large in the viewfinder!

First successful shot

The above image is one of the first attempts out in the field that was fairly successful. It does lack sharpness in the eye, however captures all the fine hairs on the fly that I had no idea they had. The hardest part I found out in this genre is a very small depth of field. The area where there is focus is only about 5mm. This along with my unsteady hand and the other factors of the fly moving along with a slight breeze moving the leaves proved a steep learning curve. To potentially get an image good enough you really have to persevere and use the continuous shooting mode on the camera. 

Anthomyia procellarus

A couple of days later while out in the garden, I saw several of the above fly variety sunning themselves. They are only an average of 7-10mm long and some, as it turned out were very compliant to be photographed. The above fly was very tame in fact and this allowed me to start refining my technique. After acquiring an Insect pocket book guide (partly to find out what insects would bite!) I found out this is called the "Anthomyia procellaris". I was struck to how different by design this fly is to the first one taken just 2 days earlier. The Leopard like black spots are really striking and make the fly really stand out. For an insect that in so many ways represents disease to be so patterned, fuelled my enthusiasm even further to discover what other flies would look like. I managed to get another one of these at another location some weeks later and this one being much larger than the first. Around 15mm in length.

With spring now in mid flow, fly activity was numerous. With the days now longer  and lighter evenings every opportunity I would have, I would patrol the garden and chase down flies that were of a new species. Some had escaped me totally and would never let me close to them. Built in self preservation evident in these instances! Eventually some would not be spooked and the third I was able to capture is the above one. One common theme with all 3 is that they all have grey bodies and Bright red eyes (Although not so evident in the spotted fly above). This is also around 7mm in length and known just as a "Common Fly" like the first. The yellow triangular body part stands out too as a distinctive detail. The next fly was also taken on the same day. Again with grey colouring but this time having a yellow ochre rear abdomen. The shape of the eye is also different to the previous flies in that they are much longer and touch in the middle on top of the head.

Two days later my next fly was captured. This is much smaller than before and only 4mm long. Grey body yet again but with striking Ochre coloured legs. The small depth of field is really apparent in this photo too.

Another new discovery 11 days later is below. Big eyes feature again as does the grey. 

Finally a month later I found a group of flies that were not grey. They were down in a damp area where my Koi pond filter is. This area is damp most of the time, not from leaking water but as it is in shade from the house and fence constantly. They are very small and skittish, but with dedication worth the try. Stunning metallic green and gold covers them all over, including the compound eyes. These are by far my favourite species of fly. They look armour plated and have the friendliest of faces compared to the others. They have yet to return to the garden though after this time, which is a shame as I would like to really work on getting better representations of them.  


4mm in length! yes the next fly I photographed was only 4mm long. I first captured it on a white post feeding on something on it. Then while walking the dogs on Wye downs I got it again in a more pleasing setting. It is classified in the "Family Grassflies" and Latin name of "Thaumatomyia" and has taken on the colour scheme of a Wasp to give it a warning to potential predators.

This shows how much magnification I can get with the kit

Small Grassfly

The next is not much bigger and for the first time has a completely different stance and form to those preceding it. More aggressive in nature it actually is predatory on other flies. It also has a metallic covering in gold with red and green tinting in the compound eyes. It could be from the Mosquito family but I cannot confirm this either way.


The typical Common House Fly eventually became available to photograph. This particular fly being very calm in nature and allowed me for the first time to really capture the detail of Compound eyes of insects. The number of individual lenses that make up just one eye is staggering. The face also has a completely new design to others with the jaw like structure on the nose area. 

Look into my eyes...

The Horse Fly, big, bold and with a nasty bite too if you are unfortunate! This particular one was during my lunch break at work last May 2014. I worked in the countryside and with all that is normally found on land with stables, ponds and Nettles. It is a natural proving ground for all forms of wildlife and has provided many subjects for my work.

The Horse Fly

The last fly up until now was taken in July 2014 in my girlfriends garden. Being a town garden and near to a main river has created another diverse habitat for insects. It first struck me how different all of the insects were in her garden compared to that in my own and works countryside gardens. In one area alone there was over 100 Ladybird Lavae in all states of transformation. This metallic green fly was found on grass stalks sunning itself. It took me several attempts to get this shot, but patience paid off, as with all the other photos in this blog.

15 Mar 2015

Eastwell Lake

Eastwell Lake is only a 20 minute walk from my house and is steeped in history too. Both my Granddad and Dad have worked on the farm estate that the lake falls within ownership of. It is a location that I walk the dogs to regularly. But in my lifetime I had never spent more than 30 minutes I would say there. So one sunny afternoon and in ownership of my new longer lens, I (without the dogs) made my way to the lake with the intention of spending several hours there. I was in hope of seeing something special or at least new to me there. 

Upon first arriving, it was clear there was a lot of life about. There was one bird call that immediately stood out as the song that defines its name. Yes, the pretty little Chiff Chaff. I could hear it but not see it at first. Then another small bird appeared above me with also a distinctive feature to identify it. The Blackcap. I had actually seen one on the feeders in my garden once exactly 13 months to the date. To not only see one in its natural environment, but also see it head down to where it was nesting was a special moment. He was constantly heading to the nest area in a Bramble bush just 20ft or so in from the road. I managed to capture it with a mouthful of flies heading to the nest. 

Blackcap with flies for young

Unfortunately this season it will have to nest elsewhere. The farmer has cleared the whole area of scrubland that the Bramble bush was located within. With this, my chance to capture the pair nesting has now gone. I then proceeded head to the bridge that is the main area where families come and feed the Mallards, Swans and Canada Geese. The lake also has a good stock of Tench, which can be seen in warmer months swimming in the shallow water underneath. The lake is in the main 12ft at its deepest part and is fed by a shallow spring that runs in under the bridge of about 1ft deep.

The happy couple

The Water Lilly pads had emerged to the surface now, but not in flower. I wanted to take the opportunity to get a shot of a pair of Mallards moving about amongst them. The Drake happened to comply by having a stretch just when I wanted it. 

Robin with Maggot

After bagging the Mallard shot, a Robin decided to pop up on the road not far from me. It had found a Maggot which I have been lucky to capture with it in the bill. I headed back along the road to the area where the Chiff Chaff and Blackcap were earlier. A Song Thrush appeared in a tree in the area.

Not long after the Chiff Chaff finally made itself seen. "Chiff Chaff Chuff" was the main way I could

identify the bird. It is very similar in markings to the Warbler varieties. They are a pretty bird with a

yellow line above its eye and delicate bill. They have a cheeky "Up to no good" persona too, as seen

in the photo below...

I'm not doing anything!

 I left it alone after a few shots and moved into the Church grounds. Eastwell lake has a derelict

Church next to it which has the grave of Richard Plantagenent within the graveyard. It is a regular

location for photographers. I even have relatives buried there too! It is a typical graveyard, in that it

has Yew, Fir and Conifers within it. This provides perfect habitat for Goldcrest. I had seen a pair

before in one and this trip provided even better than that. Just up above me was a single baby

Goldcrest. I couldn't believe it. They are rare enough to see as it is, but to see and photograph a

baby really made my day.  

                                                                                    Young Goldcrest

After this the weather really turned for the worse. A thunderstorm moved in overhead with

lightening striking within the area. It was Deja Vue for me as years before with friends over

from Germany we would also be caught in a storm. I held it out sheltering in the ruins until it passed

and then when clear made my way home after a pleasurable few hours at the lake. 

13 Mar 2015

Elmley second visit successes

March 2014 gave me the chance to upgrade my kit to a much better longer lens. Now with my new acquisition, I could get the extra reach I had been wanting for around a year. My first tryout with the new lens was planned to head back to Elmley. With some research on the reserves main website, there was some great showings of the Short Eared Owls the proceeding weeks. It was a Sunday that the weather proved fine, and so armed with my gear of I headed to Elmley.

Along the main track that leads to the main car park, there was a lot of bird activity with Lapwings, Little Egret and Redshank all feeding within a stones throw of the car. The light was fantastic, really enhancing the colours in the Lapwing and Redshank. With all these birds so close by I was able to begin to learn how the new lens worked and what it could achieve with image quality. The following image is one of the first capturing the natural feeding behaviour of the Redshank.

Redshank feeding

I have recently revisited these first images and spotted one that could demonstrate how well Redshank can be camouflaged. I decided to turn it into monochrome and adjust the settings to really enhance how well hidden this particular bird was. The only real giveaway to the bird being there is the darkness of its bill and that it is horizontal.

Perfectly Hidden

After parking, I made my way to the first hide, (a good 20 minutes walk) chatting with a film maker on the way. This hide provided me with another first sighting in my life, the Avocet! Such an iconic bird that I had only ever seen on TV and publications. 

First sighting

2 hrs drifted by, with quite a few shots taken of Avocet activity. From them resting and stretching through too courtship dances, these were aspects I had never observed before.

And Stretch...

Let the displaying begin...

Dancing on the Water...

After exhausting my Avocet observations, I made my way back to the open ground in anticipation of the Shorties appearance. On the way I managed to get a Meadow Pipit sitting on a post by using a parked car in the disabled parking as shelter. This was also another first sighting, so all bodes well for the main attraction.

Meadow Pipit

After 5 minutes of walking, some fellow photographers were also waiting around too. Then suddenly, the wife of one of them, spotted a Shorty on the ground some 300ft or so away. Result!  it does come in three's then after all. It was too far away for a photographic opportunity but with some waiting, it was sure to take flight. Not long after, with great expectations, not only this Owl, but another took to the air.

Just taken flight

Heading out

Some 16 months to the date it transpires, from first hearing and seeing photos of these stunning Owls only a 45 minute drive away. I was to have my first ever sighting of this visitor to the UK. And this, on my second ever visit to Elmley to try and photograph them! The pair circuited for 10 minutes or so before one disappeared over the sea defence mound. The other stayed a while longer, hunting just as the Barn Owl had in the field that backs onto my garden. Gliding effortlessly through the air, pausing, looking down, then carrying on in flight. Pure magic to watch. This was as close as they came to us, just keeping that safe distance. But close enough for me to really appreciate how the Shorty goes about it business.

Little Egrets

The day wasn't quite done with action though, as not long after the Owl moved on, I managed to get the above shot of 3 Little Egrets in flight. An evening Suns glow, lighting the birds otherwise plain white plumage as they fly. After the first and this visit successes, I am so appreciative of the reserve and its diversity of bird life.

11 Mar 2015

Second time at Stodmarsh

May 2014 was to be the next time I was able to visit Stodmarsh. This time with my father, as he had never been here before. The weather was good with only a slight breeze and light pockets of cloud. After my initial success in the Reedbed Hide, it was here I headed to first of all. Given how perfect conditions were and this bay being that bit more sheltered than elsewhere in the reserve. All looked good for providing some great activity. Upon settling down inside there were Mallards resting on a very prehistoric looking submerged tree stump. 
Rest time

Another solitary Drake was also swimming about not to far away. It was pretty nervous and I anticipated it taking off very soon. I managed to freeze the action of it doing so. It was great to see how much disturbence of the water there is created at take off. You get a real sense of the power needed from his wing beats to get airbourne. 

Take Off!

After his departure there was a quiet period of some 30 minutes. Then a Marsh Harrier appeared pretty close. Again as seen on my first trip it was hunting low over the reed beds, dropping down into them but again appearing unsuccessful. It gradually got closer and in range for me to capture this action finally. 

Dropping in
Keen eyed for prey

 A slight breeze had developed at this time as evident with the reeds above leaning to the left. Being such an open reserve down in a valley, this seems to be a common feature to the location, naturally channeling air movement over the water. Not long after the Harrier had moved on, a Grey Heron dropped in to the left of us into a patch of shallow water and grasses. Freezing for a while, it then moved to the left and proceeded to take off. I missed this with the camera, or rather the shots I got were blurred as too slow with the shutter speed. Next time then!

Typical Heron pose

 To the right of us little balls of black fluff with bright red heads and yellow bill tips appeared out of the reeds. Then mother popped out too. A family of Coots. They cheekily swam about patrolling the outer edges keeping a safe distance so as to vanish if the Harrier made its way over hunting. They are a prime source of prey food for them at Stodmarsh, along with Moorhen chicks too. What I find bizarre is that the Coot has chicks with the Moorhens colouring, but the Moorhens chicks also have these colours, but less prominent, as if they got mixed up at the nursery!

4 baby Coots

After an hour in the Reedbed Hide, we moved on further into the reserve where 2 paths create a crossroads. It is at this intersection where I had been told the Bearded Tits are regularly seen very close. After patrolling up and down for a while there were none to be seen. The breeze now had become a lot gustier too, which I would say is why there was no sign of them. We proceeded to go in both the Turf Field and Harrisons Grove hides further towards the Grove Ferry end. There was no activity at all. So after some hours at the reserve we headed back to the car.


8 Mar 2015

A productive first time at Stodmarsh

Good Friday 2014 provided me with the opportunity to visit Stodmarsh Reserve for the first time. My good friend at my camera club, asked if I wanted to go with him for the afternoon. He has been many times before and could highlight to me the key hides or spots that prove successful for photography. The day was fairly calm, with some slight breeze disturbing the surrounding Reeds. Fluffy clouds like that of a Chocolate Box scene, filled the sky, giving that on/off lighting that proves a pain for photography. We headed for the Reedbed hide first, given that the Sun was behind us and could light up any wildlife about at this time.

At first there was not much activity, the odd Mallard here and there and Coot darting about in the edges of the Reed Bed to the right of us. In the distance Cetti's Warbler could be heard with there distinct chaotic, metallic like calls. After about 1 1/2 hours of pretty much nothing appearing in the bay, a Great Crested Grebe popped up out of nowhere in the channel leading into the bay. Camera's primed and ready for action, we pleaded for it to come this way. Our plea's worked! it dived and only popped up right in front of us, some 30ft or so away. 

Just arrived

At the time the Grebe appeared there was a stunning golden and blue reflection on the water. This has really enhanced the overall atmosphere of the photo. The vibrant orange/ gold in the head plumage and the bright red eye really jump out thanks to the background.

Light Change

This fantastic colour soon disappeared, as evident in the above photo. I had seen the Great Crested Grebe before at my local lake but never this close. It soon dived and appeared again further away near the outer reaches of the bay and then after some minutes later vanished altogether. We stayed for a while longer at the hide. During which, in the distance Marsh Harriers were patrolling the reeds, dropping down occasionally and reappearing empty handed.

We decided to move on further into the reserve, heading for the Turf Field Hide. This hide provides a good chance of getting the Kingfisher on specially placed stumps. Upon arrival, some other visitors had informed us we had missed the Kingfisher by about 30 minutes! Oh well, more waiting then. In the end it never showed again.

What had made an appearance was a female Mute Swan tending to her nest to the left of the hide.  Several shots were taken until I got the above photo that I was looking to get. I wanted to catch the Swan with its arcing of the neck they do. The wind had really picked up at this time too, pushing cloud overhead fast, again given rise to tricky lighting. We decided to call it a day then, so in all, that trip did provide some action and I would definitely return soon to Stodmarsh.

5 Mar 2015

First visit to Elmley Reserve

In 2012 a guest speaker at my camera club, enlightened me to Elmley Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey. In his talk he showed stunning photos of the Short Eared Owl that unbeknown to me, was a yearly visitor to the reserve. So armed with this new knowledge I made plans to visit the reserve in hope of photographing these Owls. In March 2013 a visit finally happened. During this first afternoon visit I saw my first Red Crested Pochards.

Red Crested Pochard in flight 

Watching how these birds flew in formation was mesmerizing. The subtle movements and lead bird changes was as if they were dancing in the air. There were several occasions that they took to the air for reasons which I was soon discover. About an hour later on the return walk of this section of reserve, I observed a flock of smaller white birds taking flight and changing direction very rapidly and erratically. At first I could not see any reason why they were doing this such movements but then was lucky enough to get the following sequence of photos that capture what in fact was happening. 

First shot showing the culprit, a female Sparrowhawk coming in from above

Swooping in low

Singling out its victim

Unfortunate victim just before being caught.

To see this, gave me chance to see natures brutality at its best. I felt sorry for the little bird but in the grand scheme of things there are hundreds of these and Sparrowhawks are rare and beautiful Birds of Prey in their own right. After researching what the prey bird was, I believe it to be a Dunlin. This visit did unfortunately not prove successful in seeing the Short Eared Owls, but 2 Barn Owls did make a flypast and a Marsh Harrier came fairly close by, but too far to photograph with my still primitive manual 300mm lens. I came away from this trip with the above sequence, which has more than made up for the blank session of the Owls.