Category Archives: Audio

Behind the scenes at Oxwich NNR – images and recordings

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In my last post on Barn Owls at Oxwich NNR, I mentioned trying to record the wildfowl on the reserve. Unfortunately road noise or the sound of the pump that seems to regulate the water height spoils most recordings, but I did get a few short excerpts that are useable. The Gadwall were gathering around the hide at times and would congregate together and then make the sounds you can hear below.

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The hide windows limit your field of view vertically, so when playing with the longer lenses, I normally concentrated on the far bank or birds on the water. Birds in flight isn’t easy at the best of times, so with limited vertical motion, it was a bit of a no go area to try. The barn owl didn’t appear when the long lens was with me, so my sound recording photo kit of a 28 – 300mm lens with a 1.5x crop sensor camera was all I had to make the image of the barn owl in the last post.

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Little Grebes make a fantastic sound in the breeding season and it travels quite a distance. It makes them sound very proud of their chosen mate with other pairs usually responding straight away with their own call.

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The recording set up for both tracks was the same with two Sennhesier short shot gun microphones used in a stereo set up from one of the hide windows. The recording was then made on my Multi track recorder. As the microphones are very sensitive, keeping still proved a challenge as any slight shift of body weight on the stool could start the wooden floor creaking.

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Photographing Barn Owls at Oxwich Bay NNR

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I’ve had quite a few sightings recently of Barn Owls around Gower. One came within 3 metres of me when I was walking along the edge of a woodland. Typically all my sightings were either long distance or when it was too dark to make some images. I have spent quite a bit of time in the hide at Oxwich NNR trying to sound record the wildfowl at this time of year, especially the Little Grebes, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a Barn Owl hunting in front of the hide and just about within range of my camera. It was quite dark, so with ISO1600 set and a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second, I thought I would gve it a go. Most of the images were rubbish, but about three are useable, the best of which is above. It is not a prize winner in any shape or form, but it is my first of a Barn Owl on Gower so it means a lot to me, especially as the days I had all the photo gear to hand it didn’t appear and I was using what was in my sound recording bag.

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When I left the hide another Barn Owl flew past me, heading out over the dunes. No chance of any photos as it was finally getting too dark for me to make photographs, but nice to see that there was more than one Barn owl about. Now I just need to to see them when out and about with the telephoto lens and coming close enough for a few pictures.

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Skokholm Island, Pembrokeshire

Another year comes and another trip to Skokholm passes. This year I had no particular photographic goals, so I was open to what ever opportunities came along. My arrival on the island was delayed by 8 hours due to a strong swell causing problems with dis and embarkation on the island.

With the late arrival on the island and dusk approaching early due to the cloudy weather, I decided photography would be delayed till the next day and I would concentrate on trying to get a surround sound recording of the Manx Shearwaters that would come in at night to feed their chicks and rotate the brooding duties with their partner. I headed off to the area around the Lighthouse and set up the microphones on the end of a long lead. Amazingly the first Shearwater started calling from a burrow next to me at about 9.30pm, well before it was fully dark. After seeing  one of the Short eared owls from Skomer flying over on a rare visit at 10.30pm, it wasn’t until about midnight that the calls from the Shearwaters started to increase. Typically my less windy position at 10.00pm became windier and a few changes in location were required. The calls reached a peak at about 2.00am, but with the rain starting to fall at 3.00am, I packed up the gear, promising myself a lie-in in the morning. Hear the Manx Shearwaters below:

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Waking up after a bit of a lie-in, a quick check of the weather by looking out of my bedroom window showed that I hadn’t missed much. Low cloud and mist with poor visibility and frequent, heavy misty rain showers with windy gusts had arrived overnight. Visibility was down to about 50 metres, so it was an easy decision to concentrate on getting breakfast together instead of trying to get photographing.

 

The weather didn’t improve much for the next few days and photographic opportunities were limited. We received a message that our departure would be delayed for an extra 3 days due to incoming high winds. If we didn’t want to stay the extra 3 days on top of our original departure date, we would have to leave the next day; 2 days earlier than our original departure time. Unfortunately work commitments forced an early exit, so an enjoyable trip on a RIB back to the mainland at high speed was quite a nice way to end the trip. Typically the weather got better over the next few days, but the high winds forecast did arrive to affect the sailings. I’ll be back next year, so missing a few days doesn’t matter.

Marloes, Pembrokeshire

With a day course and some one to one tuition planned on Skomer, I was off to Pembrokeshire for 10 days as I had also added in a trip to Skokholm Island as well. Pembrokeshire, although that not far away from Gower, has a completely different feel to the light, landscape and wildlife. As Martin’s Haven is the setting off point for the islands, it made sense to stay in Marloes and use it as my base for a few days.

In between tuition I had some time to myself so I wandered around the village taking a few photos as I went. The area around Marloes is mainly arable agriculture, unlike the mainly livestock farming on Gower, so the fields are full of patterns where tractors move around the fields, plus the hedgerows and grass verges seem to be more abundant with wild flowers.

The weather changes fast as well on this western tip of Wales, so in one day you can get sun, rain and cloud or all in just a few minutes! All these images were taken on the same day within a few hours of each other, but the light has a slightly  different feel in each of them as the level of cloud cover changed.

Swallows were more visible than on Gower. My perception this year is there are less Swallows, Martins and Swifts than I remember from previous years. This may not be an accurate impression, but a few others have noted it as well. Pairs of Swallows were nesting in most farm out buildings, and close to my accommodation proved no different, with both Martins and Swallows nesting under a roof covering a storage area. Their communication calls are quite interesting, so I popped my Zoom H4n recorder with Rycote wind Furry attached onto one of the roof support beams and left it running for an hour. Below is an edited version of what I recorded.

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Park Woods, Gower Peninsula

 

I was visiting Park Woods to get a few photos together for examples of the various techniques that we will be covering on my Macro photography day course. It proved entertaining for the walkers, as I was most commonly found lying in a ditch or flat out amongst the woods framing up a wild flower or two.

The above image was taken with the outdoor studio technique promoted by Scottish nature photographer, Niall Benvie. Using two off camera flashguns you can get a studio look to images taken out in the field. As the power of the flashguns has increased over the years, it is now quite amazing what you can do with them that previously required the use of full studio flash kits. It was never fun lugging these around the countryside for outdoor work, plus getting power was always a problem.

A little bit of audio for you to give you a sense of the environment:

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The variation of green leaves at this time of year is very apparent, as the new growth comes through. Later on in June/July, they start to loose this and blend into similar shade of green and becoming less interesting.

I had other plans to produce some other images, but a bout of vomiting and diarrhoea, then a heavy cold and sinusitis put paid to any more photography. I must be getting old as I normally never catch anything!

Brandy Cove, Gower Peninsula

I’m sure I have been called a square in my time, but photographically it is always a format I have liked. I enjoyed and still continue to enjoy the square format in film, so when I came across this boulder at Brandy Cove and struggled to get a clear background to emphasise the boulder with my DSLR, I realised that cropping to a square would help the compositional balance as well as getting rid of the distracting background elements.

I tried to get my timing correct for making the image, as I didn’t want too much water flowing through the image, but needed some to fill in between the boulders. I’m not a great fan of really long exposureswith water as I like to have some detail in it, so it took a few goes to get the correct amount of water in the image. The shutter speed was dictated by the grey, overcast weather and was about 1 1/2 seconds @ F16 at ISO 200. This gave a sense of motion but retained the detail. If it had been any slower I would have increased the ISO to try and get the exposure around one second.

Brandy Cove has some great rock patterns and boulders, which compared to other Gower beaches, is quite different. Others have a mixture of sand and pebbles or just sand. One of my other reasons to visit was to test out my new Tascam DR-680 multi track audio recorder. This is allowing me to start 4 channel surround sound recording for some future projects. Unfortunately I can’t post the surround sound recording on the blog, but a stereo mix version is posted below.

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I tried a few more images of the boulder as the tide came in. The images have a different feel with the increased water levels, even though the exposure times had to be a bit longer as well. At the moment I prefer the first, but who knows over time the second image may grow on me.

WWT National Wetlands Centre Wales

I had a few moments spare a weekend ago or so. I hadn’t been to the WWT reserve for a while, so I spent a morning wandering around and seeing what was about. Although it was relatively quiet on the bird front, I managed to get a few images I liked. The challenge of making an image in bright conditions with a blue sky and high contrast got me thinking a bit more than normal at least.

I like images that have a complete reflection of the subject and find that Herons and Little egrets work well in the high contrast situation of photographing into the light. Normally the dark area at the top of the image above would be distracting to the viewers eye, but for some reason I think it works here.

The audio recording below is one I made at the same time as the image above and below. It has more species on it than I managed to photograph, but it gives a great impression of the sounds of a tidal marsh.

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One problem I find at a lot of bird reserves is the positioning of the hides and the direction they face. At WWT National Wetlands Centre Wales a lot of the hides are south facing; directly into the light. Luckily this time of year with the sun lower in the sky it can produce some great backlit situations. In cloudier conditions, with the light more difuse, the direction of the hide doesn’t matter. High contrast lighting is alway a difficult issue to deal with and can spoil a good image. Side lighting in the image above helps provide some texture to the grasses, but makes it harder to get a good exposure on the birds without loosing too much detail in the shadows.

Skokholm Island, Pembrokeshire

I managed to give myself some time off last week to indulge myself in one of my favourite places; Skokholm Island off the pembrokeshire coast. The island is owned and run by the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. After a few years of the island being closed to visitors due to failing accommodation and after the heroic work of the Trust, the Friends of Skomer & Skokholm and other volunteers to get it ready again for visitors, the island reopened this year for a limited period. Once I heard it was open again, I booked immediately. I prefer Skokholm over Skomer, as even though the island is smaller and hasn’t got the short eared or little owls, I think it is prettier to look at, still has most of the bird life and less humans on it.

My other reason for liking Skokholm was purely logistical. They used to provide catering for you and so allowing me to indulge in extra photographic equipment. Rules and regulations are making this too expensive and complex to do at the moment, so I became the master of boil in the bag, one pot cooking for my stay! This was also my first visit with my sound recording equipment, but strong winds made conditions difficult. I did manage a few recordings, but a huge amount of editing was required. I did get a recording of a few subjects like the Wren living around the Wheelhouse area:

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The weather was quite bright and sunny most days with some rain showers, but overall it was a good mix for photography, even though I didn’t do much during the middle of the day. This was my 15th visit to the island, so I had lots of the standard images that you try and make of the birds, so at this visit I wanted to experiment a bit more. I had a few ideas in mind, some worked and others didn’t, but overall I think I came close to what I wanted.

 

Not all the birds had hatched their eggs, so there was a good mix of brooding, egg sitting as well as feeding of the young. The Puffins were feeding chicks, but no Pufflings were visible at this early stage.

The Fulmars seemed to be enjoying the strong winds emmensely and as they have quite a repetative route on their gliding flight, you can start to try and make pictures of them in flight. With birds in flight, it is always a bit of a numbers game, so the delete key on my key board was glowing red hot after getting rid of the rubbish.

One area on the way to the landing dock at South Haven seemed to be the favourite area of the Sedge Warbler and it was quite easy to get close to the birds as they sang around the area of their territory. They lived in harmony with the Meadow Pipits that seemed to share the bracken with them and I never saw any confrontation between them. I managed to get quite a good sound recording of them here as well:

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Lichen patterns are always a favourite subject of mine, and Skokholm has plenty to keep me busy. The colours seem more vivid on the ones on the island, with a lot more variation between them as well.

My final goal was not photographic but an audio recording of the Manx shearwaters at night when they are calling to each other. As mentioned earlier, the strong winds hampered my efforts, but I did manage to get something that is worth listening to, but only just! There is some wind noise on the microphone so you will hear some thumping sounds occsionally.

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I’ve placed more pictures in a gallery on the main part of the website, so click on the link below to see more.

http://www.gowerphotography.co.uk/Galleries/Skokholm/index.html

A day of beauty and death… I was only looking out of my office window!

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I heard an unusual birdsong outside my home office window while trying to complete some accounts. A quick peak out showed that a Goldfinch was singing away on top of one of my neighbours shrubs. I had seen one a day or two before collecting nesting material from the ball of cotton fibres that I hang in the garden from February onwards. I hadn’t expected it to hang around, but it looks like it may be nesting in one of the garden bushes. As I haven’t seen one in the garden before, all thoughts of the accounts were gone and I went into overdrive to get my camera and sound recording gear set up before it flew away.

I needn’t have worried as it stayed around for the next four hours, moving from perch to perch, occasionally leaving the garden to roam further afield, but always returning. Eventually both male and female birds perched together, but not in a good enough position to make any photographs. I managed to assemble my new Amberwood reflector together to help with the sound recording. It had only arrived that morning, but I’m quite happy with my first efforts with it. I did get quite a lot of video footage as well, but at the moment my computer has decided not to recognise any file in the AVI format!?! I really hate computers!!! Hopefully I can update the post later with some footage.

The Herring gull above features in the audio file, so I thought I would get an image of it. I am always intrigued has to how gulls stay so white and how they find the food I put out in my garden so quickly. While looking out of the window I noticed a disturbance in my neighbours garden. Two crows were jumping into a fir tree. When they came out I could see that they had a chick in their beaks. As they had both grabbed it and fought over it slightly, they ended up with a piece each. They dropped down onto the grass to carry on feeding. I can’t be for sure, but I think it is a wood pigeon chick they found, as it is quite a large chick even though the feathers are not fully developed. Have a look at the photo below and see what you think.

Later that evening when putting some rubbish into the dustbin, I noticed a more developed wood pigeon chick hiding on the ground by my neighbours side gate. I think that it may have been disturbed by the crows as well. A check a few hours later showed no sign of it, so hopefully it had found some where safe to roost, if not, I’m sure the local fox would find it fairly quickly.

UPDATE 1st June 2011 – Video posted to blog

Garden Goldfinch from Gower Photography on Vimeo.

Not a bad way to spend Dawn Chorus Day 1st May 2011

(Photo © Piers Warren/Wildeye)

Luckily for me I managed a few days in Norfolk last weekend, mainly to attend the Wildeye  Advanced Wildlife Sound recording Course with Chris Watson, but I also sneak in a bit of photography the day before the course started at RSPB Titchwell.

The sound recording course was excellent and Chris is very approachable and very generous with his knowledge, time and equipment. As more clients ask me for some video footage these days for the web etc. sound has become very important, especially as I’m not a great fan of the soundtrack being mainly music. When you hear some of the soundtracks that Chris has put together for BBC programmes such as Life in the Undergrowth and the up and coming Arctic and Antarctic series, you do wander why music is used at all. Nature will provide all the sounds that you need.

The first track below was taken on May 1st Dawn Chorus Day at a Foxley Wood Norfolk Wildlife trust reserve. The chorus here was not as intense as the one we recorded in the grounds of the field centre where we stayed the day before.

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Field centre dawn chorus:

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A Whitethroat recording from a local wood:

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My visit to RSPB Titchwell was quite productive as well, but no award winning images as the weather was quite dull one minute going to bright high contrast with blue sky the next. I did manage a few firsts though with Ruff and Avocet coming close to the hide I was in. The male Ruff hadn’t developed is magnificent mating plumage yet, but will start to in the next few weeks. It would be nice to see the males displaying, but I won’t have time to travel back to see this.

While hanging about the reeds trying to find a Bearded Tit to photograph, this Sedge Warbler appeared and allowed a few frames. It didn’t hang around long enough for me to improve the composition though.

The Avocet was having a bit of a shake to tidy its feathers after grooming and then stretched it’s wings allowing a more interesting image. Unfortunately the light isn’t that good though.

This is one of the two Ruff that came close to the hide. Unfortunately the waters edge had a cream, yellow foam along it which I find distracting. Once again, not the greatest of light for the image as it is back-lit and quite a high contrast scene.

This is a very alert male Greylag goose that came very close to the hide with his family of nine goslings. While the female fed with the goslings, the male stayed very alert, especially as he was only one and a half metres from the hide window. 

On my way out of the reserve, this male Wren started singing by the edge of the path, giving quite good views. Unfortunately he was facing away from me for most of his song, but did turn around long enough to allow a few frames with the motor drive on full.

After leaving RSPB Titchwell, I popped into Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Reserve for cake and a drink, which was made even more enjoyable by having two pairs of Marsh Harriers fly around over the reed beds. The pair at Titchwell didn’t come as close, so this was a great chance to observe them more. If only the ones seen at Llanrhidian Marsh would come as close!