31 December 2010

Annual Report

And so we get to the end of 2010, the end of the year and the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. In personal terms this year has been nothing short of a bloody nightmare – family matters – we miss you so much Trish - , but in terms of our photography and wildlife watching – which is, after all the reason d’ etre for this blog, we have had the proverbial ball. 

So, just for the moment, let’s forget the personal and concentrate on the lovely animals and the photo adventures Seri and I have enjoyed this year…….

2010 has been our most “productive” year ever in terms of photos added to our database and collection. As of today – 31st December 2010 – we have added a pretty astonishing 90,859 images to our database – we have never approached this number of shots in any previous year. I should point out this is not the overall number of shots, but rather the number that have survived the cut. We probably shot 40-50% more than this…….

So – a few, ok, a lot of,  boring statistics –

Month

Number of shots

January

4993

February

5185

March

6415

April

8537

May

11597

June

9087

July

7629

August

8842

September

7464

October

8316

November

8756

December

4038
Sum 90,859

Not all of the above were wildlife shots, of course, we tend to take one or more camera each with us wherever we go to. Also it is true to say that cameras with a high frame rate (8 frames per second for our D2h and 7 Frames per second for the D300s) tend, on the whole, to generate more output simply due to the fact that more shots are taken in shorter periods of time.

So more boring statistics – which I shall read in future years, which in itself makes this a worthwhile effort - So the cameras workload:

Camera

Number of shots

Nikon D2h

8344

Nikon D200

14339

Nikon D300s

54659

Nikon D50

11870

Lumix FZ28

650

Olympus U850sw

281

Pentax Optio S40

70

Fuji S5700

141

Konica-Minolta Z1

82

As you can see the Nikon D300s is our most worked camera, hope it survives LOL

Lots of very old equipment as you can see – but hey it works and it costs a great deal less than buying new……

Our database lists 93 different locations for the shots we took this year – most of them are in the Coventry and Warwickshire area – where we live at present.  We did however manage to get out and about between periods of illness and so on. Brandon Marsh Nature reserve figured largely, no surprise to anyone who knows us, in our photo activities and we shot 56040 images on the site, spread over 158 visits - as you can imagine we didn’t miss a great deal :-)

We also managed to visit Bradgate Park in Leicestershire 9 times shooting 5774 images, Coombe Abbey Country Park in Coventry 8 times – 4266 shots, Donna Nook Seal Rookery in Lincolnshire twice shooting 2610 shots, Draycote Water 4 times – 1960 shots, Groby Pool 7 times (it’s close to Bradgate Park) – 1477 shots, Rutland Water twice – 1090 shots, Slimbridge Wetland Trust twice with 3560 shots, Warwickshire University Grounds – 4356 shots and Seri visited her parents in Malaysia returning with 484 shot in tow. We also made a trip to Wales, our old homestead for our “summer holidays” shooting Red Kites and a May Day trip to the Cotswolds – to the Bird of Prey Centre at Batsford Arboretum. Not a comprehensive list – but these are the main places we visited.

In terms of what we have taken photos of this year, well, anyone who knows us knows that we shoot anything that is in front of the cameras – so we have taken lots of scenic shots, especially at the beginning and end of the year when snow was on the ground. We try to place our images in context in our database, so if we go to Bradgate Park to shoot the deer, we will also shoot the scenery to place context into the overall trip’s portfolio. As I said, we shoot everything, plants, fungi animals, birds and so on…….

So this year we have taken 8637 invertebrate shots (insects, spiders, snails and the like), 6658 vertebrate shots (not including birds) ranging from dogs and cats through to rare Great Crested Newts and all manner of mammals, 59247 shots of birds ranging from very rare Bittern and Osprey through to the most common Pigeons, Starlings and so on. We have also photographed Deer 3217 times (Fallow, Red, Muntjac and a few shots of Reindeer). 1830 shots of Fungi, 3751 shots of people and  1669 of ourselves, 3951 shots of plants and flowers, 4896 shots of scenery and landscapes and so on and 1535 shots of Grey Seals.

In amongst the above are 103 shots of Osprey and their nest site and chicks, 314 shots of Bittern, over 800 shots of Kingfishers and 2371 shots of Robins – what can I say, we like Robins :-)

Highlights of the year, undoubtedly our two trips to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, and the two trips to Donna Nook for the seal breeding, and also our trips to Wales and to the Batsford Arboretum.

The first  two locations could not be more different to one another – Slimbridge teems with captive and often highly endangered species of wildfowl from all over the world. All nice and tidy each species or breed has an enclosure suited to its needs, with manicured pathways and lots of staff to care for them. Donna Nook is a stretch of beach with a fence, some 2000 seals, at the peak, and several hundred interested and excitable people all trying to get a view, and more often than not a photograph of the new-born pups.

Both of these sites are gorgeous in their own way – it is not accidental that we visited each twice  - and are well worth the pain and effort required to get there and back, and indeed the week or so of bed rest required after such trips.

The trip to Wales is, for us a trip home. We saw hundreds of Red Kites in the air above our heads at Nant yr Arian – a site to remember forever. Batsford Bird of Prey Centre was similarly memorable – to see large raptors such as the Golden Eagle and European Eagle Owl swooping above one’s head has to be seen to be believed. Some great trips this year :-)

We have had a great year in terms of our photography……… hope it continues into next year and beyond :-)

You probably noticed there are no photos in this posting – the reason being – we have posted hundreds of shots throughout the year. View the other posts on this blog, or visit our Flickr sites or the Brandon Marsh Galleries to see what we have been up to.

For now we wish everyone we know a Happy New Year and I’m off to prepare our equipment for 2011. We shall be at Coombe Country Park tomorrow – 1/1/11 a visit we have made each New Years Day for the past 3 years.

So Happy New Year – and if we see you, we will probably take your photo :-)

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7 December 2010

Brandon Marsh– On ice.

Seri is off to see her parents, in Malaysia, and is currently missing all this wonderful weather in the UK. Cold cold and then, just for a change, more cold. Unseasonal weather for early December we are caught in what seems to be a never ending cold spell, with temperatures in parts of the UK dipping as low as minus 21 deg C. We, here in Coventry and Warwickshire, have  been a little more fortunate in that we have seen little of the snow which is paralysing parts of the wider country, and the temperatures have not been below minus 10 deg C – so far.

Seri phoned me last night and told me it is 35 deg C in her parents house, a few days ago we were talking and she said “I'm wearing bed socks here, but I will be sleeping with the air-con at full volume in Malaysia” and so she is :-) my is she in for a shock when she gets back to this weather LOL make the most of the heat sweetheart :-)Coventry D2h  07-12-2010 11-16-25

Anyway enough background – lets just agree that it is cold….

So I decided to make a trip to Brandon Marsh this morning – minus 5 deg C in the car, but it started first time, (Citroen - C3 Pluriel) so off we go. Slippery roads, and lots of idiots going too quickly, but what’s new….. Turn off the main roads onto Brandon Lane – just on the outskirts of Coventry – in Warwickshire – this is the start of the rural environment, and what a sight it was – every tree covered in ice crystals, every blade of grass shining in the winter sun, my god this is beautiful.

I was so taken aback by the scenery that I stopped the car before I got to Brandon Marsh and just had to get the cameras out. This trip I’m carrying the Nikon D300s with 120-400mm Sigma lens and the old Nikon D2h with my new toy, the Nikkor 12-24, for wide angle shooting.

The view over the farmland was incredible –  Shetland Ponies prancing around on the snow – it is not really snow, more frozen dew, but you get the idea – lots of white cold stuff on the ground. These little guys were having a whale of a time to the bemusement of their large horse cousins and field-mates.  What a glorious scene…… but back into the car and drive the final mile or so into the reserve……

The reserve is very quiet – only small birds and a few Mute Swans, Black Headed Gulls, Ducks of various breeds and lots and lots of European Robins to be seen.

I walked to the Baldwin Hide, to see little but an ice bound lake and a couple of birds. Walked on to the East Marsh and Teal Pool Hides, a little way up the main path, same again, but less so….. more Robins but not much else.

Sat around for an hour or so looking for signs of Water Rail and Bittern (A.K.A. Eurasian 0r Great Bittern), which, if they are going to appear at all, will usually show up around this time of year, but alas nothing doing – not a peep from any of them.

Walked back through the reserve and decided to go up towards the golf course area, just to see what is about, and there is very little. Visited the Wright Hide briefly, to find a large spider in residence – normal for this time of year. There is a Short Eared Owl that has been frequenting the reserve, in the golf course region,  in the past few weeks, and there were a few photographers and bird watchers, waiting around to see it, but it did not show, at least not whilst I was around (not long) :-)

So I carried on walking – came across a very sad sight – a Stoat with the back of its neck bitten through, can’t think what would have killed, but not eaten, it? Apart – perhaps – for another Stoat…….. Anyway it is still a good sign, where there was one there will doubtless be more. This is the third time we’ve seen stoats on the reserve……. on the previous two sightings they were actually alive……

So after taking a few record shots of the deceased I walked on, and eventually back to the car. Not a long walk, but good exercise nonetheless….. So how was the day? sounds boring right? Guess again, the scenery is so dramatic with everything wreathed in ice – it was spectacular.

I have deliberately not given too much detail of the meagre wildlife sightings on this trip – sometimes it is better to just show the photographs and let the reader make their own minds up :-)

Hope you enjoy the views around this little winter wonderland……

29 November 2010

Bradgate Park – In the Snow

Map picture

We awoke on the 27th to snow, only a little bit of snow here in Coventry, but enough to get our attention. We had intended to make a last visit, for this year, to Donna Nook in North Lincolnshire to see the seals. Alas the snow had been falling for several days in that area, and onto the motorways between us and our objective.  So Donna Nook was out, it was just too far in poor conditions to travel safely and sensibly. We shall have to wait a whole year now to get back and see next years pups…… Ce’st la Vie.

Coventry D50  27-11-2010 09-31-16

Being the intrepid explorers that we are, or is it just that we were bored in the house, we decided to go back to Bradgate Country Park – much closer to our home at only 29 miles distance. We know from visits in previous years that the deer, for which the park is famous, tend to come out of the woods when it snows, in search of food.  Bradgate Park is usually teeming with people at the weekends, thankfully the bitter cold and slippery conditions persuaded many of them to stay at home :-).  So more wildlife to see, and less people to get in the way, great…. we got up, dressed like arctic explorers and off we go.

A slow drive on the motorways and in no time we turn off to Groby Pool. We always try to stop at Groby, it is a SSSi,  is on the way to Bradgate and is usually a good spot to shoot ducks geese swans and gulls, as well as the odd small species. The only trick required is to take a loaf of bread – we  planned ahead -  LOL.  A feed for the birds and a bunch of photos for us. None of the usual Goldfinches today – they were probably in the woods opposite – keeping warm. It was bitterly cold.

I had purchased a new lens a couple of days previously, well a second hand lens actually, but it is new to me :-) and actually it was purchased for me by the lovely Seri as a Christmas  present, anyway, a Nikkor 12-24 F4 wide angle lens is now a part of our kit, so, attached to our ageing Nikon D200 we took it out for a test drive.

Needless to say everywhere is covered in ice, and the pool was frozen solid. Not so many birds around, but still Seri managed to get shots of a Redwing and a few Long Tailed Tits, as well as a hungry European RobinCanada Geese and A  few Mute Swans, both adults and youngsters. In harsh conditions all of the bird species become much more aggressive towards one another and fights are common.

Protection of their own access to food is obviously foremost in their minds – and who can blame them. One of the swans grabbed a Canada Goose by the neck and threw it across the nearby rocks. No mean feat – Canada Geese are large and robust birds – Swans may look serene, but they are mighty strong birds.

The usual hybridised ducks were missing, I guess they were off in search of open water further into the lake……… So Seri fed the birds, taking photos when she could  as I alternated between my Nikon D300s with the Sigma 120-400mm lens and the D200 with the new 12 – 24. A nice little stop at Groby and off we go towards  Bradgate.

Click the above image for a slideshow from Groby Pool

Between Groby Pool and Bradgate Park is a particularly steep hill -  from the moment we decided to make this trip I had been saying to Seri we will not go down the hill – it will be a sheet of ice. Near Leicester I re-iterated the statement, at Groby again same decision. Yes – you guess correctly,  we went down the hill….. It was a solid sheet of ice, so first gear, don’t touch the brakes, don’t touch the accelerator and off we go. All is fine apart from the last 5 meters no choice but to brake as we approached the cross roads with all the wheels locked up and sliding towards a 4wd vehicle which had decided to cross right in front of sliding vehicle…… Thank God for anti – lock brakes  LOL managed to steer off to one side and eventually stop……

Bradgate is a wonderful place for anyone into photography, or wildlife, or indeed for those who just want to have a walk in pleasant surroundings. As I said above – there were much fewer people to be seen than on a more typical weekend.

So we went off into the park – first stop – to see our favourite bird, the resident Wigeon. We had seen several hundred of this species at Slimbridge WWT recently (see posting below) but still this noisy little blighter is firmly embedded in our hearts. As you approach he can be heard calling his name (wi-geon, wi-geon) as a high pitched whistle. He is a feisty little thing and holds his own pretty well amongst the larger mallards. The resident Black Headed Gulls, masters of flight, are always hungry and always provide great action for the cameras. There is to see at Bradgate than the Fallow and Red Deer.

That said, of course we go to look for the deer. Now the rut is more or less over there is a more relaxed atmosphere amongst the stags and bucks. The females are bringing last years young out into the open to feed and it is altogether easier to get better photos. the light is not great, of course and the winter sun creates shadows so long that it is all but impossible to keep them out of images where the sun is behind you, but that if life. We cannot control the weather, so we live with it and shoot what is there……

The new lens is holding up pretty well, easy enough to use, just no experience of shooting this wide an image, it will take a little time to work out I guess, but  I'm happy with the results thus far.

We see and photograph lots of Fallow Deer, adult males, females and several youngsters. We also came across a large solitary Red Stag. This animal has the largest set of antlers we’ve ever seen at Bradgate. He was quite a sight to behold, very impressive.

Click the above image for a slideshow from Bradgate Park

A few more wide angle shots of Lady Jane Grey’s house and the surrounding scenery,  Seri spots a  Fieldfare high in a treetop, and a few more Fallow deer, and we are on our way back towards the carpark. We can’t go too far into the park, as I've said many times, illness is a restraint on our actions, but we manage to get some exercise and a lot of lovely photos.

As we are on our way out of the park we see a real treat, a large herd of Red Deer crossing the River Lin and dashing across the fields. Red Deer are large animals, when you see a lot of them together you cannot help but be impressed. A dominant stag within the group  chased off a young pretender, and then led  the group up towards the Old John monument (a Folly placed on the highest point of the estate).

Back to the carpark, both sweating profusely, but hey, it beats freezing. Rest for a while and then a slip sliding drive home. Lovely day, bitterly cold but beautiful scenery, beautiful animals and birds and a lovely time out together.

Wildlife photography is a wonderful hobby, even if you miss the shots, you still get out into the environment, you still see the sights hear the sounds and meet with all manner of adventures.

What can I say, we love it :-)

21 November 2010

Slimbridge–Wildfowl and Wetland Trust.

Map picture
Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust site

19th November 2010 and the lovely Seri took the day off work, we wanted to go to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust site at  Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. We awoke to A foggy day and a forecast that the fog was here for the rest of the day, but joy of joys, Slimbridge should be OK. So we set off, fog and slow moving traffic for most of the 90 mile trip, several stops on the way but we got there eventually.

As we arrived in the carpark we were surprised to see that there were a lot of people already there.  Slimbridge is a world famous conservation site, which hosts an amazing array of wildfowl from all over the world. Including the now famous Nene (pronounced Neh Neh) or Hawaiian Goose, which was rescued from the point of extinction by Sir Peter Scott, late lamented son of Scott “of the Antarctic” and founder of Slimbridge.  Given its fame it is no surprise that the place is always busy, despite the high entrance fee of £9.75 per person. We don’t go often :-)

This was our second trip to Slimbridge this year, our previous visit was in the height of summer in August, which, as any British person will tell you, is when you can almost always guarantee dark skies and rain. Ironically it was a touch easier, therefore, to use the cameras this trip than last :-)

One of the things we love about this location is that, not only do you get to see exotic species from all over the planet, with their vibrant colours and design, but also you get to be really close to indigenous UK and passage migrant species which use the spot as a feeding station.

It is a great thrill to stand within a few metres of Eider and Goldeneye ducks, as well as Bewick, Mute and Whooper Swans, Tufted Ducks, Jackdaw, Rook, Dunnock, Woodpigeon and many others. All of these species we have photographed elsewhere in our travels, but Slimbridge seems to make them more relaxed and approachable.

The main pond, adjacent to the visitor centre is host to a large number of Mute Swans. There must a hundred or so, all mixed up with the Tufted Ducks, Common Shelduck and their more colourful cousins the Ruddy Shelduck. All was peace and quite, Swans grooming and bathing peacefully, occasionally a little quarrel between adults and youngsters and then suddenly all hell breaks loose. All of the Swans, began beating their wings against the water furiously and dashing up and down the lake. The noise was deafening, and the water instantly became like a boiling cauldron. Incredible to see, and we have no idea as to why they went crazy……

Slimbridge D300s  19-11-2010 12-41-43

We visited the hides on this trip, which we had missed last time around, frankly not great, they are poorly designed and too far away from the birds on the site. That said we saw Curlew,  several hundred Wigeon and a Peregrine Falcon. For reasons known unto the managers of Slimbridge the one hide Seri wanted to visit closes in the winter months to “prevent disturbance of over wintering species” this seems to be a little silly to us, as the whole point of hides is to prevent such disturbance. A bit of overkill methinks………

Anyway back into the main reserve for us, at this point we were feeling a little let down by the visit, a quick trip to see the Flamingos (there are several breeds at Slimbridge) and you cannot help but feel better towards the place. Even better though, on our last trip in August we had specifically gone in search of Mandarin and Wood duck, with no luck. This time we found them the male Mandarin being all feisty and showy. Mandarins are evolved to be show offs :-) if they had a motto it would surely be “I pose therefore I am” LOL delightful little things to look at……..

We continued our walk around as much as my poor legs can manage of the reserve, viewing numerous breeds of Crane, geese and ducks of all colour size shape and attitude all over the place.  Slimbridge has a population of the now rare Eurasian Crane, which are all hand reared,  using glove puppets,  to reduce their dependence on man, with the intention of eventual re-introduction of a breeding population into the UK.

Great things to see therefore in their present semi-captive state.

Conservation can be, in and of itself, a contentious issueSlimbridge D300s  19-11-2010 14-04-11, as I am always reminded when I see the odd looking little duck to the right. This is the very rare White Headed Duck, numbers of which have plunged in recent years. Many of these little fellows are to be seen at Slimbridge.

The principle reason for their reduction in numbers is not, as one may think, hunting, habitat loss or any of these issues, although I am sure, as with many species these will all play a part, but no, the main reason is that they are hybridising with Ruddy Duck, an American species which now lives and breeds in the United Kingdom.

What answer do the powers that be have to prevent this “decline”? Wholesale slaughter of the Ruddy Duck population in the UK and I believe in the EU. Note the quotation marks around decline…… One could argue with some veracity that they are not in decline, but are rather evolving into a new breed…

We always find it incredible that wholesale slaughter of a breed or species is touted as a tool in conservation. To us they seem to be mutually exclusive terms…….. If we were to remove all of the “non-native” species from the United Kingdom one wonders what, if anything, would remain?? Naive you say – perhaps so – but there comes a point when you have to say – it’s been here long enough to be considered a part of our fauna……. As you can see – visiting Slimbridge makes one think :-)

Slimbridge also houses a troop of Otters, and we were lucky enough to be there at feeding time when the female adult and her three well grown daughters were being fed with all manner of fishy goodness…. Great to see them out in the open. There was a talk going on during the feeding spectacle in which it emerged that the Otters are American – Northern River Otters, and not Eurasian. Why? not a clue and no convincing reason seemed forthcoming. Anyway who cares, they are remarkable and beautiful creatures.

There is also an elusive beaver on site, elusive in that it just never seems to come out LOL

If you visit, go to the Crane site and you will see a couple of baskets on a pivot point. There is a sign on the baskets asking “should we re-introduce beavers to the UK?” I paraphrase – the idea is that visitors place stones into whichever basket suits their answer yes or no….. As one basket is heavier so, naturally the baskets will act as a weighing scale.

Great idea, with one significant problem. As we walked around the reserve we found there were quite a few stones in the no side of the scale – which actually fits our views on this question. A couple of hours later we went back to the same spot and all of the stones in the no side had been removed leaving none in that basket.

In all honesty one has to ask: Why ask the question if you have no interest in the results? – A fundamentally dishonest and insulting practice.

Criticism ended :-)

Slimbridge is a really special place to visit – it is too expensive (use the restaurant at your financial peril) and the hides are not great, but the sheer volume of wildfowl from all over the world, as well as the UK just makes this a must visit for anyone wishing to see exotic birds and wildlife close-up. In addition the knowledge of the good work they do there with regards to conservation of the many endangered species of wildfowl makes one thankful for their existence. Great place – visit if you can – but don’t forget your wallet…….. our day ended with a 2 and a bit hour drive home through pea soup fog. Great day out – hard work :-)

All in all we took over 2,600 shots on this visit using 3 cameras – Nikon D50, D200, D300s– 1882 of which we added to our extensive collection.

Click the above image to see a slideshow of photographs from our recent trip to Slimbridge.

18 November 2010

Brandon Marsh– in the Fog

Map picture

I made A trip to Brandon Marsh on the 16th of this month, November 2010, mainly to get rid of the “cobwebs” stiffness and so on from our recent marathon to Donna Nook (see below).  It was a very foggy day, cold and uninviting. As experienced wildlife shooters, however, we have learned not be too phased by such weather. It is true to say that even dense fog can lend itself to the creation of some interesting images and may reveal otherwise unseen natural phenomena.

It is always great to visit the marsh – it is a place we know very well, is on our doorstep, so to speak, and, of which we have now shot approaching 100,000 images. We are members of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and are now in our fifth year of visiting.

As I said, we know the place very well….. So I arrived in the car park to find my friend Geoff was just leaving, there are usually lots of photographers, many of whom we know, bird watchers, wildlife tourists and people out for a pleasant walk at the Marsh – though surprisingly not so many on freezing cold foggy days LOL

Geoff and I passed a good few minutes in very pleasant conversation, about pretty much what you would expect two keen amateur wildlife photographers to talk about – what is where, cameras and lenses and so on LOL. Many of the photographers at Brandon use Flickr to display their “works” – I have included a link to Geoff’s page – take a look……….

Brandon Marsh D300s  16-11-2010 14-32-30As I said above, the marsh only gives up some of its  secrets in certain weather, this time, with the fog depositing a fine mist of water droplets onto the reed beds and other plant life it is amazing to  see that everything is wreathed in spider webs, all “illuminated” by their fine watery coating….. Only in this weather can you see just how active the spiders are, and how beautiful their webs look…….

Brandon hides, there are 7 of them, were almost empty, as were the lakes. Goldeneye are out there somewhere, but not seen by me today, from the Baldwin Hide A Grey Heron stands guard on a pontoon and a Great Cormorant flies past, giving me the opportunity to fire off a few shots…….. All is quiet, and sometimes that is all you desire – a place of peace and serenity overlooking beautiful scenery and equally beautiful flora and fauna. Marched on towards the East Marsh Hide – slowly and painfully – but still getting there eventually….. and stopping often to take photos of the marvellous reeds and wet webs, fascinating stuff…..

In the East Marsh Hide – a few birdwatchers – have you seen the Bittern, the usual question at this time of year……Bittern are very rare birds in the UK with only a couple of hundred pairs in the whole country. Brandon Marsh is privileged to host several individuals during the winter months…… After an hour or so of shooting a Pheasant and a Green Woodpecker – whoosh, up goes the mixed flock of Black Headed Gulls and Lapwing (always resident) a sure sign that something they fear is overhead. A quick look around, and there it is the A Bittern dropping into the reeds. I was the only one who spotted it, and frankly I don’t think the others took my word for the sighting… their problem not mine LOL We have several hundred shots of Bittern in our collection, but it is always great to see them again.

Needless to say the Bittern stayed out of sight for the rest of my stay in the hide. Did see a Sparrow Hawk flyby – once again lifting the nervous flocks into the air. Inexperienced people, when the flocks lift off, watch the flock. More experienced viewers watch the sky around them for the perceived predatory species, which quite often turns out to be something harmless, but interesting. A Water Rail showed itself several times as did several noisy wrens….. Too dark for easy photography, but enjoyable to see nonetheless. The pheasant I was watching took off and headed towards the spot I was sitting in at breakneck speed. Little light but a quick burst on the D300 and I captured the flight head on – dark and blurry shots, but I am happy with the outcome.

Stayed in the East Marsh Hide until the skies began to darken – watching to the right – towards the Carlton Pool. Watching for starlings….. for the past few weeks we have enjoyed watching the starling flocks  float around the sky in a pre- roosting dance. there is now a sizeable flock in evidence.

A cold wet day, with poor light and visibility, and which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Click the above image for a gallery of shots from this trip.

15 November 2010

To Donna Nook and Back Again…..

Donna Nook is an RAF bombing practice range, and a terrific site to see nature in the raw, so to speak.  Situated on the North Lincolnshire coast,  close to the village of North Somercotes these salt marshes and accompanying sand dunes are home to a wealth of bird life and are home to one of the most important Grey Seal Rookeries in the UK with an estimated 33% of the UK Seal population using this important breeding site.

These figures are possibly contentious, but Donna Nook is certainly the only place in the UK where one may approach to with a few feet of a breeding colony of rare mammals.  The seals haul out at Donna Nook in late October in order to give birth, moult and breed. Last year the site, as reported by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, produced some 1,300 pups. This year, as of November 15th, there are a reported 396 bulls & 778 cows present with 513 pups born.

In order to protect the seals, and the visitors, there is a double fence in place “guarded” by a small group of Seal Wardens. These guys are wonderful, very friendly towards the visitors, and knowledgeable about their charges………..

Donna Nook D200  30-10-2010 11-16-23

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So we went to Donna Nook, Donna Nook D300s  30-10-2010 10-40-37this was our second visit to the site this Autumn, and it was wonderful. Donna Nook is such a special place for wildlife that it is worth the pain and effort required to get there and back. A drive of about 160 miles each way, we were pretty amazed to find the car park full when we got there at 10am :-) having left home very early.  So, on arrival we naturally went to see the seals first, this is, after all, the reason d etre for the visit…. well lets say, to a point. Anyone who goes to Donna Nook and just looks at the seals and then leaves is missing so much.

The seals are birthing pretty much at a constant rate, and we were lucky enough to see a new born pup making its first contacts with its mother. These little animals are such bundles of fur when they are tiny, although at a 14kg birth weight tiny is a relative term :-) they are just so cute, and highly photogenic…… Many of the pups die in their first year, very sad, but that, unfortunately is nature and the natural world…….

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As the site is situated on England’s East Coast so it becomes a fly over point for many species of migratory birds. Each time we have visited we have made conscious effort to walk as far as we can into the other side of the beach from the seal observation point. Unfortunately, due to health issues we can’t get that far into the site, but still far enough to see all manner of species.

Starlings abound, swirling in flocks of several hundreds, a large flock of several hundred Brent Geese have been resident on the beach on each of our visits (first time we have seen these gregarious birds). The geese take off for a circuit of the beach quite often giving great views of them and  their flight. Egrets and Shelduck are all over the place, with a lot of Redshanks showing on our most recent trip. We also saw a couple of Curlew , a Kestrel, Dunnock and lots of Black Backed Gulls, including a few feeding on an unfortunately deceased Seal cow.  We were also very lucky to see a flock of Bewick Swans flying in.

The only problem with the site for birds is the distances involved for the photographer. This probably explains the number of idiots one sees hopping over the ropes and the signs which say “please don’t walk on the beach” – is it worth disturbing the animal life in order to get a shot? for us the answer is a resounding NO…..

After taking some 2256 shots and a bunch of videos we went home happy, and content Donna Nook is a great place to visit.…….

NB: Problems viewing albums? Try: “View this album on Windows Live SkyDrive” from the album pages……

8 November 2010

By way of Introduction……

Hello, we are Kevin and Seri, and we love wildlife. We are also enthusiastic photographers, owning several Nikon digital SLR cameras, purchased over several years, and, as you may expect, a number of lenses of various focal lengths.

Needless to say our joint love of photography, and wildlife watching, has,  inevitably developed into a passion for wildlife photography.

Due to illness and pressures of work and so on we do not often  get to travel too far in search of our photographic prey, but, living in the UK Midlands, we are fortunate to be surrounded by many sites of interest to the wildlife photographer.

We visit Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve as often as we can. A part of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust portfolio, the reserve is situated on the outskirts of Coventry, a UK city of some 300,000 people. The reserve teems with wildlife of all types, from birds (waders through to woodland species) through to deer (Muntjac),  snakes, otter, mink and all manner of other creatures.

The reserve also abounds in fungi and plant life, season dependent, of course and insects. It is a fascinating place and is pretty much our favourite haunt. We share the place with a number of fellow photographers, many of whom we know, bird watchers and many people just hoping for a pleasant walk in the extensive grounds.

Habitats range from mudflats, lakes and reed-beds through to mature woodlands.

Coombe Abbey Country Park is another site which is close to our present home in Coventry and which we visit regularly. A large country park there are many pleasant walks, as well as an impressive Hotel with well manicured lawns. The main interest for us is, naturally the wild spots. There is a large body of water on the main pathway where all manner of ducks, geese and swans as well as a squadron of hungry Black Headed Gulls are regularly fed by visitors, giving great views for the photographers, of course……

Further into the park there is a bird watching hide which overlooks the most important Heronry in Warwickshire and from which, every spring, you may see the Grey Herons  and their accompanying Cormorants (they always breed together) getting down to the business of raising the next generation. It is quite an impressive site to behold and has become something of a pilgrimage for us……

Bradgate Park is another Country Park, this time in the county of Leicestershire, about 4 miles from central Leicester or 29 miles from home for us. The place is pretty amazing all year around, but particularly in the Autumn when the large herds of Red and Fallow Deer start their annual rut. It is possible to get very close to these large animals, and often we see people getting frankly far too close for either their, or the deer’s safety. There are also many species of bird to be seen.

Sitting astride the River Lin the park  is within the Charnwood Forest with Swithland Woods to the South East and Cropston Reservoir capturing the waters of the Lin.

The park is vast, and is a bit too far for us to manage fully, so we have not managed to see more than a small fraction of the place. Always an enjoyable spot we visit if and when time and illness allows.

Bradgate Park is very close to Groby Pool, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The site, as the name suggests, encompasses a large(ish) lake in which sits an island with Heronry. Mute Swans breed at the lake, as do a small but dedicated population of ducks, including many interesting and very pretty hybrids, if you are lucky you may see the local Black Swan as well as Pochard and Great Crested Grebes  Groby Pool is another great spot for the wildlife photographer and one which we visit as and when time, and such, allows.

These are just a few of the sites we visit, and from which we have taken 140,000 photographs over many years……….. We love what we do, if gives us great joy to see an animal in a wild environment, to take home a prized photograph gives all the more pleasure.

This posting is just an introduction to the blog – future posts will be more focussed on individual visits………..

No photos posted this time  - see side galleries for  a glimpse into our little world…..