21 May 2015

Once Bittern, twice shy, 3 Bitterns, my Joy!

In all of my 37 years of living I had never seen the elusive Bittern. This in part is down to the main fact I had never been to locations where they inhabit! But back in January this was to change. And as the saying goes "just like buses, two come along" well in this case 3 for me. Although technically it was the same bird I believe seen on 3 separate occasions within the 3 or so hours at Dungeness RSPB reserve. I stretch the truth a bit as also the first glimpse of a Bittern was at the Stodmarsh reserve. I say glimpse, as it literally was as it flew in the distance.

Back to Dungeness. My father and I were sat chatting to others in the hide about a Kingfisher that we has missed by 30 minutes or so. Then luckily with my camera out and ready, a Bittern flew over and landed in the Reeds some 100ft away in front of us. 

First capture

Swinging round to land

Sometime later, in the area it landed it appeared at the top of the reeds. A behaviour that is rare according to the other wildlife lovers in the hide. The bird stayed there for only about 3 minutes then took off and landed in a small island right out in the lake out of sight. The next sequence shows this.


After it disappeared I had resigned to the fact one would not be seen again this day. My anguish was dispersed off by the re-arrival of the the blue and orange flash of a male Kingfisher. Just in the edge of the wooded bit to the right and only some 20ft away, he appeared and dived several times and then perched further in. Then as luck would have it, he flew out onto an exposed branch overhanging the water, thus providing the perfect hunting spot. In total he spent over an hour on this perch and caught at least 7 unlucky small fish. He even had a little friend at one point in the form of a Great Tit. This helps to give a sense of scale of the Kingfisher.

Posing for the cameras

With fish

You got a friend in me!
 This friend came a lot closer to us, feeding on Bullrush seeds.

After this second highlight of the day, they say things happen in 3's! well it turned out to be the case. The Bittern returned to the same area as seen above. This time staying hidden, until, a patrolling Marsh Harrier flew nearby and spooked the Bittern to fly out and crash land in the water. These are a bird that does not swim on water as the wade at the edges, so for this to happen could prove serious for the bird. As luck has it I have the sequence of it from just landing in the water through to it struggling to escape the clutches of the water and return to dry land. I have only included a snapshot  few as some were of similar look.

As the sequence depicts, the Bittern really struggles to make it back. The energy and power it uses to make it back is really evident in these. It uses the wings as paddles, lifting it up and providing forward motion. I have revisited on two more occasion this year and not seen any Bitterns, although one trip provided action for my "Battle of the Coots" blog previously published.

18 May 2015

Butterflies and Moths

After initial success with my Fly Macro I have where possible moved into capturing any form of insect or mammal. In this Blog I show what Butterflies and Moths I have captured with not only the Macro set-up but also general lenses. My initial finding was that Butterflies are very skittish and prefer distance between you and them. So a steep curve to getting any shots was embarked on. With some experimentation I wondered if the old 300mm Prime lens would work on the macro extension tubes. So one sunny Sunday in July 2013, while out walking the dogs and armed with this set-up and the other lenses just in case, we set off on the hunt. At the edge of one particular stretch of woods, south easterly facing, was full of Thistle in flower. Being late afternoon the Butterflies were as usual very shy. But with perseverance it paid off.

Painted Lady

Small Tortoiseshell

 The extension tubes allowed the 300mm to enlarge these perfectly and sharp too. I could stand easily 6 feet away from them. The Sun really defines the vibrant colour and form of them. Although very common species, I have always wanted to capture them on film, well digital now...lol.

Small Moth (species unknown)

 The next to come along was in fact indoors on my Settee and so far unable to identify this Moths species. It was very small, about 2cm across and are very common. I loved the contrast between the brown material and the silver pattina. Light was very low and several attempts were made before it paid off for me.

Stacked with several exposures

October of 2013 was the next time a Moth appeared or at least stayed around long enough to photograph. One evening this Moth was hanging around on the garden table. Having read about focus stacking, I had chance to try as this Moth being late evening was very docile, due to lower temperature I believe. About 6 shots from memory were used in this and a stacking program was used to combine them together. I am fairly pleased with the result as the head has so much detail and good depth in focus too.

Well nearly a year passed before I had chance for Butterflies again. The next proved to be at a glorious open house garden with a small and unique classic car show on. The Gardens were full of insect life. Bright golden flowers, some Sunflowers were in full use by Butterflies. Trying another technique by using my 50-200mm I was able to be far enough away just as my first time, but without the need of the extension tubes and getting full metering by the camera too. There were so many of these feeding on the Nectar along with Peacock Butterflies too (I have not included any of them due to very distracting backgrounds and foliage).

Several days later up on the Devils Kneading Trough Reserve on the North Downs I was able to capture a very small but beautiful Butterfly. The Brown Argus. There were several about along with Common Blues, but they proved too elusive to photograph! This time I used my 150-500mm lens at around 500mm. I know the minimum focus is 6ft and thought it would work on these too. Which to my surprise it has. Although the weight of the lens made life very difficult as I had no monopod at this time.

Brown Argus

Then further on on the hill a Meadow Brown with a red parasite on it was spotted. It was preoccupied with feeding I could spend some time shooting it. By coincidence a friend at my camera club had also photographed it around the same time and entered it in the club league competition.

I am very impressed with the quality the lens has delivered and given true representation of these.

A Night on the tiles

Just 3 days later at my girlfriends this Small Tortoiseshell hung around and then landed on the side of the house. I saw a opportunity to do something different and have a comical touch to this. With some tweaking of colour balance etc, I wanted to portray this as being at twilight. Seeing the tiles gave me the idea of a narrative that it would be spending a "Night on the tiles" as the saying goes. Just a twist and bit of fun on a very popular subject.

Next to come and last until this season was an Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar. This was spotted the day before in the garden of the house I was decorating at. So the next day I took the camera with me with the expectation of it still being around. And as luck had it, not only this one but another was also in the same patch of plant. Many years ago I actually found a Privet Hawkmoth caterpillar and kept it until it transferred into the Moth and let it go. So I knew this one was the Elephant being brown in colour. I believe it is starting to show signs of transforming into the Chrysalis state with the sheen on its back.

So here you have it, several ways of capturing these beautiful insects but all providing the same results. Hopefully 2015 will also provide some for me to document.

11 May 2015

Third trip to Stodmarsh

November last year was the next time I was able to visit the reserve. Any previous chances I would have were be stifled by bad weather. Conditions were very similar to my previous trips, with glorious sunshine and again a slight breeze. The Reedbed hide was a given to head to first and also being the first from the car park. There was not much going on when I settled down, but eventually another first for me up close was a Male Shoveler Duck. He had flown in to the bay area. He swam around and then eventually came to rest on a post just showing right in the middle of the bay. The light was perfect, with stunning reflections in the water just as the time with the Grebe. Really showing the drakes plumage and colouring off at its best as can be seen below.

Splash Landing

Preening and token feather

Looking good!

After the Shoveler Duck there was no more visitors to the bay. My next port of call was to be the Marsh Hide. No longer had I sat down, opened the viewing hatch and turned on the camera, had a Grey Heron come into view and heading my way. I prepared to capture it landing and as can be seen I managed to freeze it just as the tips of its feet entered the water.


As soon as he landed, I believe it spotted me and proceeded to take off again with me freezing it a second time...

Bye bye

Some time later finally a Kingfisher turned up, however hidden in the bushes next to a feeder stream. It then flew off across the expanse of water and into the distance. Kingfisher 1, photo by me 0! At least I had proof that they really are inhabitants of Stodmarsh and not a myth. So with this, after some lunch I made my way to the Turf Fields hide where it does make regular passes and stop on the stumps placed for it by the Warden. A lady in the hide told me it had been showing regularly there and was a very good chance it would appear again. After more waiting, suddenly in the distance, some 150ft away, there was a blue flash. It was back. It landed down out of sight in the edges of the water. Camera at the ready, it suddenly rose up and hovered about 12ft above the water I would guess. I had never thought they could hover and this behaviour was completely new to me and I caught this in the following photos.


I must admit I had become tired of seeing Kingfishers in photos really really close up from sites that do photo experience days. So with this male (it has no red on the bill which females have) being so far away, gave me the opportunity I was after in capturing one in his general surroundings. By luck it was still a bright day which enabled me to use the fast enough shutter speed to not only get it sharp but freeze him while hovering. Third time lucky then for me to finally capture one at Stodmarsh. With this 3rd highlight of the trip I headed back to the Reedbed hide. 

By the time I got to the hide it would not be long before Sunset. There was the Marsh Harriers hunting in the distance on their normal routes and the odd Coot moving about in the bay and as always arguing with each other. Then about 10 minutes before the light faded hundreds of Starlings in a Murmoration decided to land in the reeds to the right of the hide. They had just settled, then suddenly they were up and away again. Initially there was no rhyme or reason to it. They came back in and settled again, and then there it was, a Sparrowhawk. Despite the low light I was able to catch the moment the Hawk made a second pass...


It is quite hard to make the Hawk out, but just above the reeds an inch in from the right, it can be seen with its wings swept back. I am not sure if it was successful and to what sex it was either as it was so quick. I guess it must have been as the Starlings made several circuits of the area again before a final settle down for the night. As they circuited and with the light being so low, I could try out a few ideas with creative shutter speeds. The following image is one such and I feel captivates the essence of a Murmoration by Starlings. I have yet to visit Stodmarsh after this climatic trip...