Monthly Archives: November 2011

Starlings At WWT National Wetlands Centre Wales

Having seen the BBC local news on Friday, I was pleased to see that a large gathering of Starlings had decided to make WWT National Wetlands Centre Wales their home for the winter. Previously I have had to travel further afield to see such a large spectacle. I noticed last year when on north Gower and on Cefn Bryn that starlings were heading over to the Llanelli area to roost at night, but never knew where they gathered. An appeal via Twitter to the local birders didn’t produce anything concrete either. Having them settle where access is easy is a bonus as well.

There was a good gathering of other photographers, birdwatchers and nature lovers at the centre this evening. They all had one thing in common; the look of delight on their faces as the birds gathered, flew over our heads and finally roosted for the night. You can never beat nature and the natural world!

Before the Starlings arrived at dusk I had a few hours to walk around the centre. I decided before I set out not to bring along the long telephoto lens, partly because I wanted to carry some audio equipment to try and record the starlings, but also to force myself to come up with something different for a change apart from just bird photographs. My attempts to record some audio didn’t work out, but I will have another go at a later point.

As has been well noted by other wildlife watchers, nature is a bit confused with the current weather conditions. There are signs of both autumn, winter and spring at the moment, with the centre showing signs of all of them.

It pays to wait and see – Caswell Bay, Gower Peninsula

These are a couple of images I made last Sunday while wondering around Caswell Bay. I had been inside all day and needed some air and a change of scenery. I wasn’t planning to make any images, but always carry a camera anyway. None of these images are anything special, but they do show that patience often pays off. I have noticed while doing some of my courses, that as soon as the sun has passed below the horizon, the participants are busy packing away their cameras thinking that is it for the day. Some of my favourite photographs by me and other photographers were made after sunset. In the image above it doesn’t look too promising for any interesting light with the sun entering a band of cloud at the horizon. There is a hint in the sky that there maybe some colour worth photographing, but often this goes rapidly once the sun hits the cloud on the horizon.

After the sun set and entered the cloud, the intensity of the colours increased and produced the lovely saturated colours above. Quite often after a sunset the light levels seem to increase for a minute or two. This is not a perceived change, but is confirmed by the camera metering system. This is the best time to make your post sunset image.

The image below shows how the light looses its intensity and the saturation of the colours changes after a few minutes. It produces a different style of image and is not one to avoid. It just depends on what type of image you want. I often joke with course participants that we will stop making photographs when there isn’t enough light to focus by. What they don’t realise, depending on the time of year this may be 40 to 90 minutes after sunset. So when the sun goes down, don’t pack up straight away. Hang around for a bit and wait and see what happens.

Changing Plans at Whiteford Burrows

Sunday was one of those days when you head out with a few picture ideas in mind, only to find that the weather has changed and what you thought of isn’t possible. The weather was bright and sunny when I planned another trip to Whiteford.  On setting off the bright sunshine started to get weakened by a bit of haze in the sky, only to find the sky fully clouded over with only a few breaks in it on my arrival at Whiteford.

It reminded me of a tuition day I did last week when we had great ideas planned, but torrential rain ruined it. You have to be able to adapt to the conditions you are given. The light had died completely and had gone quite flat at Whiteford, with all the colours getting quite dull as well. The flat lighting had reduced all texture and any landscape relief, so colour images are out if I wanted to do a wider landscape view. Time for some black and white. As black and white is a distortion from reality, it allows you to adjust more in the digital/conventional dark room, without it looking false.

I watched a presentation by Matthew Jordan Smith on the Creative Live website over the weekend. Even though it was based on fashion and beauty photography (which I used to do in the old days in my previous life in London), I find that I can always learn something from other photographers. He taught really well and made the studio a less intimidating place for the beginners watching. What did I learn? An example is shown above. It is in the selection and placing of images side by side when used in magazines and display to get the best impact. It revolves around the use of opposites and making sure that the two side by side images do not look identical in scale, colour, layout etc. The images can be similar, but not the same. There must be a difference. Once he mentioned it, it seems so obvious, but already it has help with a project I am working on at the moment.

On leaving Whiteford, the crows put on a great show, flocking together and producing great shapes. It had got really dark by then, so my shutter speed was very slow. The crows were brought into the air by four Buzzards flying over on the thermals, but my attempts at trying an image with all of them together were fruitless. I tried to get some audio instead, but the wind was too high and I got a lot of wind noise on the mics instead of the crows.

What looked initially as a bit of a waste of time, ended up as a quite productive afternoon in the end. So what ever the weather get out and make some images, but tailor them to the conditions and try not to get focused on one idea only.

Whiteford Point and low flying aircraft, Gower Peninsula

I realised that with all the day courses, work projects and other stuff that life brings along, that I hadn’t visited Whiteford point, sands and burrows for a long time. With the weather forecast looking good and the tide times just right for late afternoon I decided to pay a visit to try and get some bird photographs. I was hoping that some over wintering birds had arrived and that the tide would push them closer to me once positioned.

It was also a test for me as I now have the ability to cover the lens focal length of 12mm to 800mm in three lenses. This allows me to travel relatively light (only about 20kg in total, not including tripod) , plus check out a rig to allow me to take landscape photographs from a Wimberely Mk2 gimbal head designed for long telephoto lenses.

The old Victorian light house was proving a popular rooting point for some cormorants. It looked like an alternative bird cage with all the birds outside the cage. Surprisingly some of the birds left the lighthouse to roost on the cliffs near Broughton as it got darker.

The pine plantations at Whiteford always strike me as a potential subject, but I feel that I have more work to do to get the images I want. The image above emphasises their height, but there are more images there to explore.

The cormorants had left the lighthouse roost to fly towards Broughton, when they passed close to the area of the sky with the setting sun. The birds were interacting with each other as they flew along. Instead of taking a straight path to their destination, they tended to fly upwards at intervals. This upward motion was more like a stall in their forward flight. All the birds did this simultaneously, so I’m sure this is some type of group interaction similar to that seen in other birds that flock together like Jackdaws, Rooks etc.

 My visit to Whiteford was spoilt though by the action of the pilots of the four planes shown below. All of them came flying along the estuary from Swansea heading west. Unfortunately they decided to fly well below the minimum flight height permitted, with one dropping to a few metres above the ground. The only purpose for this seem to be to disturb the flocks of birds on the estuary. The main culprit was the red and white plane, which I believe I have photographed before. On another visit to Whiteford a similar plane flew very low over the point disturbing a large flock of Oystercatchers. Their actions put paid to any meaningful bird photography, as most birds were scared off by them.

I will be contacting the National Trust, the owners of Whiteford, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Civil Aviation Authority to report these low flying episodes. I don’t think that the planes are from Swansea, but if you know any of the pilots or the planes locations, please let me know. Luckily there were other witnesses to this incident, some of which managed photographs as well.

Worm’s Head/Rhossili Bay Day Course

Once again the weather was kind to us at Worm’s Head, with an okay sunset at the end of the day. It looked promising for up to about 30 minutes before sunset, when a bank of cloud appeared on the horizon. Earlier in the day we had blue skies with some clouds to break up the sky a bit, but it was a more ‘postcard weather’, with the images looking okay, but a bit bland. At least it wasn’t raining like last weekend at Mewslade!

I would like to thanl Phil, Malcolm, Jeff and Martin for putting up with me for a day and hope that you are pleased with your pictures. From what I saw on the back of the camera, there are a few ideas I will be nicking and use myself!