Monthly Archives: June 2010

Kittiwake Update from Mumbles Pier plus some video

The Kittiwakes are doing well at Mumbles Pier despite the heat. Check out the photos of fellow Gower blogger, Adam Tilt HERE to see how they coped in the higher temperatures. I revisited last Sunday as it had become a bit cloudier which helps with the contrast in the images. By the time I got to the pier and with an opening time of 9am, the clouds had cleared and the sun was out. Luckily where some of the birds nest is in the shade so I was able to make some images. I was trying to get some images of the chicks, but as they don’t do too much at the moment, plus a lot of the adults are still brooding them, I had limited success. I tried a few variations, some of which worked, but I also decided to make a quick video for those of you who are not able to get to the pier.

A few comments on the video. The audio makes it sound that it is quite noisy in the colony. It is actually relatively quiet for a gull colony, compared to those I have spent some time around on Skomer & Skokholm Islands off the Pembrokeshire coast. The editing just seemed to make it appear as if birds are calling all the time when they are not usually. For those of you who think they can detect the sound of a pressure washer at some stage, you will be correct. The crew of the RNLI lifeboat, which is stationed off the same pier as the Kittiwakes, were cleaning the lifeboat down while I was trying to make the video. It didn’t seem to matter if I stopped filming and started again later. The pressure washer always seemed to come on when I pressed record. I now appreciate after trying sound recording on my course with Wildeye last year how difficult it is to get a clean sound recording like we are used to hearing on TV etc.

Enjoy the video!

Spot the Little Owl and more From Skomer Island

The Little Owls on Skomer are well suited for the terrain with superb camouflage. You only really picked them up if they moved and even their bright yellow eyes didn’t give them away. The image above and below were taken to demonstrate their ability to blend in with their surroundings. I was amazed at how many people just walked past them, even though I was pointing a huge photographic lens at them!

After a while of spending some time with them, I got to learn their habits and could identify the male and female, which look the same, from their behaviour. The female stayed closest to the young with the male bringing in food and passing it off to the female. The female would also hunt herself, but when the male arrived at his favourite perch he would squawk, and the female would fly to him to collect the food. I stayed for a few hours and it was great just to be able to watch their interactions. They also got used to my presence and the male decided he wanted a closer look at me, so he came within 10 feet of me. No picture I’m afraid because at the time I was looking in the opposite direction taking a photo of an oil tanker moored in the sound! Even though I turned really slowly, I knew he would fly off before I managed to train my camera on him. That will teach me not to pay him my full attention. They still came relatively close so I managed a few different images.

I decided to leave the Owls in peace in the afternoon and wandered down to the landing area. Normally everybody is in a rush to get round the island that they rarely spend time here. Once all the boats have landed for the day and before the first boat leaves in the afternoon, it is usually very quiet with plenty of birds to see and photograph. If you don’t have long telephoto lens for your camera this is the place to go as the birds are very close with usually a choice of Razorbills, Puffin and Guillemot to choose from. The favourite perching place has been nicknamed “Kodak Rock” by Kenny who works on the Dale Princess as everybody usually stops here to take a photograph on their arrival.

Razorbills have great markings, but it is only when you see them close up can you appreciate that there is quite a lot of brown in their colouring. The same goes for Guillemots as well. From a distance it all looks black. They all seemed to be taking it in turns to pose for me. One would have it picture taken, then fly off ready for another to take its place.

It started to rain as I waited for the boat and the rest of the passengers to arrive, but all the birds were posing so well I carried on, keeping the camera dry under a waterproof cover. The Puffins nest all around here, so they are quite close and very used to human presence. The background gives a different look to those you get up at the Wick where the main colony is.

Ragged-Robin on Welsh Moor, Gower Peninsula

While photographing the Whitethroat at Welsh Moor I saw a small area that was covered with Ragged-Robin flowers. I have only now managed to get back and photograph them. Earlier in the day I had been at Mumbles Pier photographing the Kittiwakes. The cloud cover that was present had burnt off, so the conditions were much sunnier and contrasty as a result. Normally I like to photograph flowers in less contrasty, cloudy conditions as the colour saturation tends to be better and more accurate. This year I set myself a challenge to photograph in sunnier conditions with a few more blue skies showing in the photographs. I have found it quite challenging actually, but thought these flowers would be a great chance to try it out. In the end I still prefer the images made when the sun was hidden by a passing cloud!

I took everything including the kitchen sink with me to make the photographs. I am trying at the moment to find a subject and cover it from all angle and with all lenses possible. The top image was taken with a 500mm lens, with the image above using my 12-24mm wide-angle lens. Each gives a different perspective and look to the image. Variation in the results is the desired outcome, and using different focal length lenses makes it easy to vary the look of the images.

The above image finally shows some blue sky! Notice though that there is no direct sun on the flowers themselves. I waited until the sun went behind a cloud so the flowers were in shade, but still had some blue sky behind. The best of both worlds!  A breeze was present so it made subject movement a problem with the longer exposure times required. It just turns into a numbers game with a bit of patience thrown in as well. On my return home  and while downloading my files from the day, I was being serenaded by this great singer. Time for a few more photos!

Kittiwakes at Mumbles Pier

Yesterday was a very productive day for my photography, and along with lots of other local photographers and bloggers I have read recently I ended up at Mumbles Pier to photograph the Kittiwakes. Saturday morning was quite overcast, which is the best conditions to make photographs of black and white birds if possible. The softer light reduces the contrast in the image making easier to handle the range of tones in the image.

The birds have nested towards the end of the pier, and seem very content with their position. For a gull colony it is very quiet at the moment. I’m sure this will change when the chicks hatch. One pair has two chicks at the moment, but most are still incubating eggs. They are very tolerant at the moment, probably due to the regular visits of fishermen to the pier, which allows easy access to the birds.

I hope to get back more often to photograph the rest of the life cycle while they are around and before they head back out to sea. For some reason I think that I read that Kittiwakes are under threat, but my RSPB bird guide says they are secure at the moment. I hope that if the new development proposed for the pier proceeds, that the Kittiwakes are still able to nest on the pier. It is an incredible privilege to have access to these birds and watch an intimate part of their life.

The Banana – 1st Launch of the Year

The Banana is the nickname given to my sit on top kayak which I have finally managed to get out on this year. My plan when buying the kayak was to try and make some images of Gower from the sea, which is a view that we are not so familiar with. I then saw some images of some photographers making images from kayaks and canoes of wildlife. What surprised me was the use of long telephoto lenses in some of the images. I’m afraid that I haven’t been as brave as this, but my excuse is that most of their images seem to be taken on lakes with no waves or swell to contend with!

The beauty of wildlife photography from the kayak is that most subjects allow a much closer approach from the sea. Although I only used my compact camera these gulls were quite tolerant of my approach. Once I have plucked up the courage to try a longer lens with my normal equipment, I hope to get some better quality images.

A selection of images from Skomer Island

It has taken me over two hours to download the 76Gb of images that I took on my 4 day visit to Pembrokshire. I hadn’t been to Skomer Island for two years, so I thought it was time to return. The new ticketing arangement works well; it is still first come first served but at least you know what sailing you are on or if it is all sold out now.

The Puffins are always a great source of inresest and I spent a few hours with them, but unfortunately the lighting became a bit too contrasty for making images of a black and white bird so I moved on. The image above is slightly different from the normal portrait, and shows the great yellow colour of their mouths with the barbs they use to hold onto the fish they catch. This colouring and the barbs are also seen in Razorbills and Guillemots.

The wardens on the island had mentioned that a Short-eared owl was present on the island, and that the little owls had young to feed so were all quite visible. The little owls have a defined territory which makes it easier to locate them, but the short-eared owl was roaming the whole island which would make it harder to locate.

As I was walking from the Puffins at the Wick to the visitors centre at the farm, I noticed a strange looking gull that was flying over the gull colonies. Closer inspection showed that it was being mobbed by the gulls and as it came closer it became obvious that it was the Short-eared owl. It was very pale in colour so it needed a double take to make sure it wasn’t a Barn Owl. It came quite close and allowed a few images to be made, no prize winners though but better than nothing!

The Little Owls were very busy feeding their young and I managed to locate the burrow where their chicks were located and their favourite perches. Unfortunately the lighting wasn’t great and became a bit harsh and came from behind the birds. I spent a few hours with them and saw some great behaviour.

With all the special birds around the island it is easy to forget the more everyday species. I have always found the gulls interesting to watch and the island has nesting Great Black Backed, Lesser Black Backed and Herring gulls nesting. The Black Backed gulls always seem to like to take the highest points on the island to nest and are commonly seen atop the rocky outcrops.

If you have visited Skomer and still have time or you have been unable to get over to Skomer it is always worth a walk around the headland, Deer Park. I always find it a good location to photograph Stonechats, Wheatear and Chough. The image below of a female Stonechat was made over the course of about 40 minutes that I spent with this most accommodating bird. It flew around me, resting on various perches, interested in my actions. I think the sound of my motordrive on the camera made a similar sound to their call, so I’m not sure if it thought I was a very large Stonechat!

The White Kite of Gigrin Farm plus Gigrin Farm Day Course

The conditions were quite tough for my Gigrin Farm Day Course on Saturday. The sky was very bright with little or no light hitting the birds, especially the underneath. This resulted in almost silhouette style images, even with exposure compensation. To get some detail in the underneath of the birds it required exposure compensation knowing that the sky would record as a blown out highlight on the Histogram. As there was very little detail in the clouds any way this wasn’t a problem.

The ‘white’ Kite was still around, so with the sky going white in most images, I tried to make an image that was slightly different. In the image above some blue sky is visible which makes the background a bit more interesting. The Tower hide that I book for the course gives us some extra height and you are sometimes able to look down on the birds slightly. This allows images, as above, where it looks as if it was taken in the sky next to the birds. It is a shame in a way that the kite has been tagged, but I will not clone out the wing tags as it will not be a true reflection of what was really there.

When the kite flew over, it was possible to see the lack of pigment more clearly. A lot of the feathers appear translucent, which was emphasised by the over exposure of the image to get a correct exposure for the underneath of the bird.

In previous posts I mentioned trying images with white backgrounds. On Saturday, there was no option but to have a white background so nearly all the images have one. I did get some images that I have been trying for a while to achieve, which was great and having a white background appears to give the details in the birds more clarity that with other backgrounds. This is only an illusion, but quite a good one.

I still took some images with the kites in a classic pose.

The final image is one that I have been trying to make for a while. Unfortunately it needs lots of post processing to correct the image, and it is still not quite correct and needs more work. I think I will have to head back to try again!

Looking for Meadow Pipits at Welsh Moor, Gower Peninsula

For those of you who know these things, you will have realised that it is actually a Whitethroat in the image above. I went to Welsh Moor to try and make some images of Meadow pipits, but got side tracked due to the presece of a few Whitethroats in the Gorse bush next to where I parked my truck. Meadow Pipits were around, but I stayed with the Whitethroats as I already have some images of Meadow Pipits. I slowly moved closer to their favourite perch over the period of about two hours, so they would get used to my presence and tolerate my approach.

When dealing with any bird or animal subject, I try and start making images once I feel the subject is large enough in the frame to provide an environmental view. If I waited till I was closer and just tried to make a closer, tighter image, I would probably never make many images as it is always an unknown as to whether the subject will tolerate me and the sound of the camera shutter firing. After a while with the birds, you could see that they had a routine and as a result I could pick out their favourite perches for singing. This was also confirmed by the presence of white patches made by their droppings which shows that the perch has been used regularly.

For those Pipit lovers amongst you I have put the above image in the post as well which shows a tree pipit on a gorse bush. It is a bit of a long shot and not very inspiring, but I didn’t want to move from my location next to the Whitethroats.

Whiteford Burrows, Gower Peninsula

As Whiteford Sands and Burrows tends to have less visitors than the southern bays and beaches of Gower on a Bank Holiday, I visited to check out the Yellow Flag Irises that usually flower here in good numbers. It seem that it is a bit early for the full display, but it probably will hit its peak next week. There are still quite a few around at the moment allowing group and single plant images to be made. At my visit the sun was out till quite late, so it was just a bit too contrasty for my liking. I did make some images anyway though.

Typically it was quite windy over the Marsh, so went it did cloud over I retreated to the protection of the pine woods near the rental cottage. This allowed me to attempt a plant portrait with my 500mm lens, but a slow shutter speed with the potential for mirror slap vibration resulted in the need for a cable release and mirror lock up. The trouble was the wind still caused some plant movement, so only a few images were sharp.

There are quite a few ponies around on the marsh at the moment and it is always interesting to watch there interaction with each other and the group bonding that occurs. Even though they are not true wild animals, they display many of the characteristics and behaviour of truly wild herd animals such as Zebra and Antelope.

On my way back I came across a few Kits (juvenile rabbits), one of which was quite accommodating and allowed quite a close approach. I managed to get quite a few images of it before I left it alone to carry on feeding.

Sunset over Llanrhidian Marsh, Gower Peninsula

I went to Llanrhidian Marsh initially to see what birds were around to photograph, but it was quite quiet on the bird front. Initially the marsh and sky didn’t look too promising for any other photographs but as the sun descended, the colours in the sky intensified. It is always difficult to avoid flare in these situations when the sun is directly in line with the lens. A lens hood won’t help, plus the elements in a zoom lens seem to suffer more from flare than a prime lens in the same situation. There is some flare around the sun in the above image, but I don’t think it is too distracting from the overall scene.

The above image also suffers from some flare, even though I excluded the sun from the frame. I still like the image and think it has an advertising style feel to it as opposed to being a straight image with less ‘feel’ to it.

Once the sun had completely descended below the horizon the flare problem disappeared plus the contrast in the scene lessened giving a softer, flatter light. This allowed the reeds in the foreground to become more visible, but a gentle breeze kept them moving so they have become blurred.