Monthly Archives: April 2012

WWT London Wetlands Centre & London Wild Bird Watch


Well London Wild Bird Watch has come and gone. Congratulations go out to all involved in the organisation. I’m sure if it runs again next year it will go from strength to strength and areas will be tweaked and developed further. I know the weather wasn’t too kind on Friday, but Saturday was busy and I’m sure the sun on Sunday helped attendance. Loads of activities and presentations had been set up, so I had prebooked a ticket to see Simon King presenting on the Wildlife Whisperer stage. On arrival I headed out straight into the reserve to see what was around, plus I was trying to avoid the temptations placed in the exhibitors centre.

As you can see from the photos, Robins were singing away all around the site. I hadn’t brought all the photo gear as I was travelling light, but the birds were happily ignoring all visitors and carried on singing away. After another look around the exhibitors and having a chat with the folks at Sigma, the Sound Approach, Aigas Field Centre, 5.11 gear on the Wildlife Whisperer stand, Benro, Giotto, Gitzo and finally Nikon with a look at the new D800, I waited to listen to sound recordist Chris Watson’s presentation.


Chris did a great presentation on the dawn chorus, with a slight twist. The dawn chorus starts on the north east coast of Scotland and sweeps across the country with it arriving in Cornwall just over 1 hour later. Chris had taken this and played the dawn chorus of various habitats from north to south but had included the underwater worlds, both sea and freshwater. Presented in 8 channel surround sound, it was a great demonstration of the power of sound.

After a quick bite to eat and the pleasure of bumping into an old friend off to the Amateur Photographer Photography Workshops (Hi Andy!), I went to Simon King’s presentation. Based on the theme of Urban wildlife he presented web camera images of Peregrine Falcons nesting on Charring Cross hospital, foxes in a city garden combined with video shorts of Simon setting up the web cameras plus the showing of a a live peregrine in the theatre. As you would expect from Simon, it was well presented with lots of information and entertaining. The final prize draw of £2000 + of telescope and other gear was a surprise, especially to the 5 year old winner. Her Dad was happy anyway!

Kate Humble was popular, with a large number of (unsurprisingly) men and some ladies queuing for her book signing and later a presentation for the WWT on the Spoon billed Sandpiper Project. Kate is a popular and vocal supporter of the WWT, which can only help them get their message across.

It was a really enjoyable day and I hope it runs again next year. A lot of work went into the event and I hope the organisers feel that it will become a regular annual event.

Well done Simon/Wildlife Whisperer and WWT!


Trawling the archives – Random Images

I was updating my back up drives the other day, plus trawling through my Lightroom catalogue, when I came across some long forgotten images that caught my eye. Nothing particularly fancy about them, but they appeal to me.

Seeing the moon in daylight is always intriguing to me.  As the moon is only small in the frame it is not surprising that it may not be noticed above, but the different cloud patterns and shapes attracted me first.

A windy, grey day seemed ideal for the Kite surfers. They almost make it look easy. My attempts started a new sport called Kite Snorkeling, where a kite pulls you head first through the water, but just far enough underneath the water that you need a snorkel. Unsurprisingly it hasn’t taken off and gone global yet!

Death & Rebirth at Easter, Fairwood Common, Gower Peninsula

With Spring representing rebirth in lots of religions and Easter celebrating the death and rising of Jesus in Christianity, I thought it was quite timely that I came across one of the areas of controlled burning that is used to clear bracken and gorse on the Gower common areas. This ancient technique that has been used by indigenous peoples all across the world, native North American Indians and Aborigines amongst them, is a way of causing death and then rebirth but of the plants that are desired and not those that are required to be cleared.

The challenge photographically was to try and find some order amongst what appears to be visual chaos at the start. The first image in the post was easy in a way. Once I had spotted the broken branches exposing the white inner wood and the broken heart appearance to it, it was relatively easy to produce a composition. The greater challenge was how to show other areas of the burn without such obvious help. It came down to lots of looking through the camera at different levels and angles to see if the layout of the shapes within the viewfinder appealed to me. Trying to simplify the composition as much as possible to remove as may distractions as possible was difficult with overlapping branches, so I resorted to a very shallow depth of field to narrow the area in focus. This was enhanced by using a telephoto lens and converters when required, to flatten the perspective and compress the items in the scene.

The shape of the branches caught my eye in the image above and with my high active imagination, I thought they mimicked the shape of the flames from the fire that had swept through them.

I have covered the death part, next will be the rebirth in a few days or weeks when the new grass starts to come through the burnt areas.

Good Friday Sunrise, Arthur’s Stone, Cefn Bryn, Gower Peninsula

With the weather forecast for the Easter weekend being mainly cloudy and with the only sun probably early Good Friday, I decided to set off for Cefn Bryn at sunrise. I had been thinking about a sunrise image of Arthur’s Stone for a while now that the rising sun position is now closer to the optimum position. In a few months it will be even better, as the angle to get both Arthur’s Stone and the rising sun at the moment is a bit to straight on to Arthur’s Stone. I like to photograph the stone at more of an angle so I can use the split side as a leading line. Getting in close with a wide angle lens avoids excessive sky and allows you to get the top of Arthur’s Stone way above the horizon. Because the stone is in a depression, it is hard not to get your horizon crossing the mid-line of your image, which makes quite a “static” feel to the image for the viewer. If I went too low, I lost the rising sun, so after a bit of shuffling around, I found the horizon level above the best compromise.

I had taken my 500mm lens with me as I was hoping to get some images of the skylarks that have returned to the common. Unfortunately I didn’t really get close enough for any images worth posting, but it did prove useful to compress the perspective of the sun rising with the layers of cloud and land in front of it coming out in different shades of grey. To get a good size orb of the sun or moon, I always find that I need lenses of 500mm and above.

As the clouds rolled in, I walked back to my pick up, but the cloud pattern above the highest point of Cefn Bryn appeared quite attractive. Even though it was fairly bland overall and the light being quite flat, there was still a nice feel to the scene. I needed some foreground interest and luckily the ponies obliged and wandered into some nice positions. I knew at the time of making the image that a panoramic crop would help the composition. Too tight and the clouds would be lost; too little and the bright sky would dominate. I ended up with a 16:9 crop ratio which I think works well enough. This is one of the few images of mine that I found needed more than 2 minutes of processing in Lightroom. Normally I would have not bothered, but getting it to how it appeared to me needed a few extra tweaks than normal and seemed worth it.

Elan Valley & Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, Powys, Mid Wales

A change is as good as a rest they say, so I decided to head up to Mid Wales to potter around  for a few days. I had always promised myself a stay at Gigrin Farm, so I didn’t have to leave as the light reached it’s best for photographing the birds. With the weather forecast to stay dry, I booked some camping at the farm, packed the gear and headed off. I wasn’t specifically heading up to do any landscape photography, but as the Red Kite feeding isn’t until 3pm and I can only lie in for so long, I managed to potter about the reservoirs when not looking for new locations to visit. My nemesis of blue sky was present, but with my mini project of trying images dominated by one colour, plus trying to break out from my photographers instinct of dawn and dusk photography, a mid morning shoot produced the images above and below. The lower sun angle makes it easier at this time of year as the landscape has some texture to it and not the flat look of summer. 

As I have mentioned before in a previous post, the world doesn’t need any more photos of a Red Kite against a blue sky, but as I was on holiday, plus it is fun, I decided to let myself off the hook of creativity and indulged in some mass market imagery. Making photos of any bird in flight is a numbers game, so after editing my way through 3200 images, I was left with about 500. I will live with these for a while and probably edit them down to less than 100, with only 10 or so main images that I feel are the stars of my visit. This may not sound a successful visit, but I am very harsh with my editing and am now quite happy to hit the delete button as often as is required, whether it is due to poor technique or lack of artisitic merit.

Apart from the red kites, there are loads of Buzzards and members of the corvid family about at the feeding. Getting images of Ravens is difficult in the wild, but very easy at Gigrin Farm. Their close proximity allows plenty of variation in images from flight shots to perching on trees. In a day it is possible to assemble quite a collection of images with enough variation to make them interesting.

I had to post one classic Red Kite in flight image, but I am more taken with the image below. I was drawn to the simplistic nature of the landscape and was trying to get an image with a Kite in it somewhere. Most attempts failed, but this image stood out in Lightroom. I don’t even remember taking it, but was probably part of a sequence that I captured with the motor drive. I like the interaction of the kite trying to steal the food from the Raven, with the Raven putting the brakes on in flight so to speak. It would have been nice to get more interest in the rest of the image, but you can’t have it all.