Saturday, 31 July 2010

100 Not Out!

Well, here is post number 100...
I must admit I'm surprised to have got here so quickly, because before I started this blog my main concern was finding the time to actually write it and finding something to write about!

I must say it's been a lot easier than I thought it would be.
I've found it's just a case of going out, taking some pictures and then talking rubbish about them...Simple!

Anyway, I've been thinking about what would be a fitting way of marking this milestone and decided that the best thing to do would be to post my favourite photo of the year so far...

Now so far this year I've traveled many miles around England and Wales photographing a vast variety of different species.
It seems strange then that my personal favourite image of the year was taken only a few miles from my home and is of one of the most common birds in Britain...The humble Robin.

Robins are the most charming little birds...Bold, brave, cheeky and I've always found them irresistible to photograph.
One day early in April, I was walking back to my car after a mornings photography session when I spotted something moving on the top of a high wall.
As I neared, I noticed it was a Robin, head down and totally ignorant to my presence.
I was a bit tired after a long morning and nearly didn't bother stopping...After all it was only a Robin!
There was a line of bricks partially obscuring the bird, but I became intrigued to know what was keeping him so occupied because I'd stood there for a good few seconds and he didn't look up once.
I decided I might as well get one final shot of the day, so pointed my 500mm lens at him handheld.
He still didn't look up, I still couldn't see what he was up to and my handheld camera was starting to get heavy!

I did one last focus check and steadied my camera as best I could before making a whistling sound.
The Robin looked up and straight at me revealing what had been keeping him so busy for the past couple of minutes...

Thanks once again for stopping by and following my blog.

Friday, 30 July 2010

The One That Got Away!

If I were to name the one bird that has given me the most trouble trying to photograph over the years it would have to be the Jay.
Jay's are incredibly shy and very wary of man and in particular one man...ME!!!

Here's a shot from one of my typical Jay encounters earlier this year...
I spotted him and tried to get myself into a position that offered good cover and a good chance of a shot, but the trouble was he spotted me before I was quite set.
All I got on this occasion was this one shot...At least he had the courtesy to fly off in my direction!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Alien Invaders

Back in June, I touched upon the problem of introduced non British species into our waterways and in particular the Terrapins at Etherow Park.

Well Etherow is just one of many local waters to contain these creatures and Reddish Vale is another.
The other day I spotted a very young Terrapin basking on a floating log in one of the ponds down the Vale...

Whether or not this youngster had been freshly dumped into the pond or is a result of successful breeding between already established Terrapins I'm not quite sure.
The other thing I'm not sure of and perhaps I'll have to do a little research on the subject is the effect that these reptiles have on the Eco system.

This particular pond is fairly small, but as a good stock of small fish which are a good source of food for the resident Kingfishers, as well as the Terrapins.
Terrapins are also known to attack young wildfowl and I wonder if the death of a young Coot I spotted on the pond a couple of days earlier was a result of these alien invaders...

The sight of another exotic species and I guess an altogether less harmful creature in the pond made me chuckle...

I was sat quietly by the pond, hoping for the Kingfishers to turn up, when a two young children with small fishing nets turned up looking for Minnows and Sticklebacks. The Kids were accompanied by their parents and the four threw pieces of bread into the water hoping to attract the small fish.

After about 30 minutes or so, the father declared that "The pond was polluted and there were definitely no fish in there". Now of course, I knew that this wasn't true and the presence of Kingfishers and Terrapins on the Pond is proof enough of good fishing. The family then walked off the wooden jetty where they had been looking for fish and left the pond rather disappointed.

Less than a minute after they had left and from beneath the jetty where they stood, a huge Koi Carp came to the surface!

Sunday, 25 July 2010


Wherever you find Kingfishers in my local area, there is a good chance that there may be another beautiful little bird that thrives in freshwater streams and rivers...The Dipper.

5 out of the 6 Kingfisher sites that I know of locally are also the home to Dippers and when I came across this female bird feeding in a stream earlier this year, I was particularly happy to see her...

The reason I was so happy is I noticed that this Dipper was a ringed bird and I happened to be present at her ringing early in 2009.
I met up with members of the South Manchester Dipper Project at a location close to my home, just as the guys were freeing the bird from a mist net that they had set up on the stream close to the Dippers nesting site.
The bird was carefully placed in a specially designed bag and we then proceeded to the car park where the group carried out some important checks on her.
The first job was a quick examination to check that she was in good health and she passed this with flying colours.
Next the Dipper, still in bag was weighed...
Then came the most important part, the ringing its self.
A steady hand was required for this and I was full of admiration for the amount of speed and skill on display here...
All done and a final health check before the bird was returned to the stream...

The thing that struck me most was how calm the Dipper remained throughout the process, showing no sign what so ever of any distress.
Again a glowing testiment to the talents of these ringers.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Return Of The Fisher King

A few weeks back I told you about what appeared to be the sad demise following the harsh winter of the Kingfisher at Reddish Vale, a place that has been a stronghold for these stunning birds in recent years.
Well has it happens, the very next day after making that post I spotted two birds flying over the main Mill Ponds at the Vale!

I didn't want to get too excited, so I remained open-minded about this sighting and indeed returned a number of times in the next few days only to be disappointed.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I saw the birds again, but after returning the next couple of days, I drew blanks.

The good news is I have visited the sight on three occasions this week and I have found 2 very active young Kingfishers each time.
Not only that, it appears that the birds are well settled here and are using the areas of the Vale that have been used traditionally by Kingfishers in the past.

This morning I managed to get a fairly close view of one of the birds and hopefully this will be the first of many more to come...

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Ghosts Of The Forest

A seldom seen creature of Britain's forests and woodlands is the Fallow Deer.
Despite being one of the countries largest mammals these shy animals remain amazingly aloof and are very wary of human beings.

The best chance of spotting Fallow Deer is early morning, just after dawn or the hour or so before sunset in the evening.
The best places to look for them are areas of good grazing grassland close to densely wooded areas.

The Deer never seem to venture too far from the edge of the woodland and if disturbed will quickly vanish into the trees...It's uncanny how a fairly large herd can disappear almost ghostlike seemingly without trace!

Good cover is essential for getting near to Fallow Deer and here are a couple of shots taken early on a beautiful spring morning of a Doe emerging to feed from the woods.
Unfortunately, my cover wasn't quite good enough and she soon spotted me!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Boy, Haven't You Grown!

I paid my first visit for a couple of weeks to see how our little Mute Swan Cygnet was getting along and I was pleasantly surprised to see how much he'd grown in the short time since I last saw him.
Still looking very cute, the most noticeable feature is his neck, which has taken an altogether longer profile.
He's still spending most of the time closely following his parents around, but once in a while he'll venture off a few yards to explore his surroundings...

Monday, 19 July 2010

A Few From This Evening

I managed to finally drag myself out into the miserable English weather earlier this evening after nearly going stir crazy due to lack of photography!
It was actually quite a pleasant day at times today, but by the time I finally managed to get out of the office, the gloom had descended.

I decided to pay a visit to Etherow Park and quickly located the House Sparrow colony I photographed the other week.
The light was fading fast, but I was lucky enough to get a few shots away...

The rain soon started to fall and photo opportunities were fading with the light.
It was as they say "nice weather for ducks" although this female Mallard didn't seem to care all that much about it...

A flock of Canada Geese came flying towards me in the poor light.
Shutter speed was low, so I focused on one bird and panned around on him has he came past.
I've always enjoyed taking slow shutter shots of wildlife in motion and this one although not quite as slow as I would of liked, didn't turn out too bad...

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Talk About The Weather

Just over a week ago, United Utilities the company that supplies household water to the North West Of England announced a hosepipe ban because of a severe lack of rain in the region.
The reservoirs are very low in this part of the world so I guess the action is understandable, but inevitably ever since the water shortage was announced, it hasn't stopped raining!

For somebody who likes to get out and about with the camera as often as possible, it's all getting to be a rather frustrating business.
Now I'm not one of those fair weather photographers and I don't mind a little bit of rain, but the light hasn't been brilliant and the few times I have ventured out in the last week it seems that the wildlife has decided to stay in!

Well I've had enough and with forecasts of more gloom to come in the next week, I have set myself a challenge to get out and find some wildlife to photograph.
I've decided I'm not going to sit around moaning about the rain, I'm going to get out and embrace it...Starting tomorrow!
Or I could I suppose post some more old images from my archives...No, no I'm going to get out, get wet and get some new images for you.

Watch this space...

Storm clouds gathering over Manchester

Fighting Back!

Some heartwarming news reported in the press this week concerning one of England's most endangered mammals the Red Squirrel.
Our true native Squirrel has been a very rare sight in recent years because of the Squirrel Pox virus which is carried by the non-native and now far more widespread American Grey Squirrel and is confined to only a handful of locations in the north of the country.

One of those locations is Formby Point on Merseyside and I told you back in February about the desperate plight of the species there and at the time the situation look very bad indeed.

Well I'm very pleased to say, that I and many others underestimated our Reds and these little beauties are staging what can only be described as a miraculous comeback at Formby.
Numbers dropped from around 1000 to only 100 or so Squirrels in 2008, but a culling of Greys and the quarantining of infected Reds has seen the Formby population double in the last two years.

There's also good news for Welsh Reds as well, with the population booming on Angelsey and the Greys now all but extinct on the Island.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Playing Around With Light

Just to follow on from my last two posts...

On that beautiful spring evening I took the Red Deer shots, the light was so lovely I hung around and waited for the sun to set.
I have taken the sunset at this location many times before and I must of photographed one particular tree hundreds of times.

In fact, this must be the most photographed tree in British nature photography because it has been the subject of award winning images from pros such as Ben Hall and Geoff Simpson as well as helping yours truly to top prize in a competition early this year!

I'm sure many of you will be familiar with Ben's famous image of Red Deer under this tree at sunset because it has been used by the RSPB in their Birds Magazine on a number of occasions.

Anyway, I just wanted to make one more point about the use of light following on from the Mute Swan post from the other day...

One tree in the setting sun...
Same tree in the same setting sun, but this time I positioned myself a few feet further to the left...
As you can see, the results are rather different and the light paints two very different pictures with a lot more subtle variations in colour in the second shot.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Red Deer Hind

Well the weather is still pretty miserable here at the moment so I hope you don't mind me digging into my hard drive again.
Here are a few shots from a set I took of Red Deer Hinds in Cheshire back on a beautiful spring evening in April...

Photographing wild Deer is always a challenge and something I enjoy very much.
I suppose it brings out the 'hunting' instincts in me, and as somebody who is 100% opposed to hunting, I mean this in the nicest possible way.
I guess you could call it 'the thrill of the chase'...Finding the Deer in the first place can sometimes prove impossible and then you have the dilemma of getting close enough to them to get a decent image.
I'll be the first to admit that I do get a bit 'Ray Mears' when Deer are the target and camouflage clothing and a lot of skulking around in long grass is usually the order of the day...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Early Morning Swans

The most important aspect of photography is of course light and without light you simply can't take a photograph!
Different light conditions can be the difference between a good and bad photograph and sometimes the right light can make for some quite magical images.

Some Landscape photographers chase light to the point of obsession and have an uncanny knack of knowing where the best light will be at a particular place, at a particular time of year.
A bit nerdy then?
Well no, I don't think it is really...I think all photographers of all genres can benefit by studying light a little more closely.
I think it's especially important to the wildlife photographer and even more so if you're like me and you rely 100% on natural light.

Over the years I've learnt by trial and error where the sun will rise and fall at my regular locations and this is particularly important when you have a shot in mind that you would like to try and capture...It's no good waiting 12 hours for that Golden Eagle to fly by carrying it's prey, only to realise when it's too late that you're shooting straight into the sun!
Sounds very basic, but it happens and I would say it happens to all of us from time to time too.

In April, I payed a few visits to Poynton Pool in Cheshire to photograph amongst other things Mute Swans.
On my first visit, I walked around the lake to the far side so the sun would be behind me and this allowed me to get some rather pleasing shots.
On my way back I noticed the sun over the top of the trees and thought that this might be quite interesting at sunrise when the sun starts to break through the trees.

I waiting a couple of days until the forecast was favourable and returned early in the morning and waited for the sunrise.
A beautiful almost misty light soon developed and to my delight 5 Mute Swans decided to fly by...

I'm not 100% sure or not whether this was the effect I was after but I must admit I'm quite happy with the results.
A little bit more predictable a lot easier to pull off was this silhouetted Swan...Just a case of waiting for the bird to swim into the right position (just before the reflected sun) and then firing away!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Lake District Red Kites

There was some great news reported on the BBC's North West Tonight show last night about the re-introduction of Red Kites to the Lake District...

90 juvenile birds are to be released over a three year period, starting with 30 youngsters in a couple of weeks time.
The young Kites have been bred at a site in Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire and have been transported to a holding pen at their new home in Grizedale Forest in the Lake District ready for the big release day.
After the release, the Red Kites will continue to be fed until they have learnt to fend for themselves and special care has been taken so that the birds will not become accustomed with human contact.
All the birds will be tagged just like the one below so progress can be monitored.

It really is another great effort by conservationists who have worked tirelessly over the last 20 years or so to re-establish the Red Kite as a common sight in Britain...Up to a few hundred years ago the species was widespread.

Lessons have been learnt from the great success of the species in Wales, thanks in no small part to the team at Gigrin Farm in Powys.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Birds Of A Feather

The weather has been a little bit grim today, so I've been looking through some old images and came across this set from last year...Well only just!
These shots were taken at West Kirby on the Dee Estuary on New Years Eve of last year.
I remember it to be a very cold winters morning, but we had some beautiful sunshine early on.

I love to visit West Kirby in the winter months when the tide is high, because if you're lucky you can witness some amazing scenes as thousands of Waders and Sea Birds arrive en mass and sit patiently on the rocks for the sea to go back out and reveal a feast of crustaceans on the wet sands and mudflaps.

On this December morning there was a flock of around 5000 Knot as well as good numbers of Dunlin, Redshank and Turnstone.
Every now and again something would make the birds restless and that was the cue for some wonderful sights...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Little Brown Jobbies

The plan for this morning was to have a walk around Etherow Park in Stockport and see what was about.
I was expecting to have a card full of Water Fowl shots, but as it happens, I didn't really get that far around the lake...

The reason being, is not far into my walk I encountered a flock of one of my favourite little birds, the House Sparrow and I was mesmerized for the next hour or so by their antics.

Who would have thought not so long back that the humble House Sparrow would find it's way on to the RSPB's red list, but sadly that is the case and these much loved little birds are now declining at a alarming rate.

What makes this more shocking is the fact that the House Sparrow really is the ultimate 'people bird'.
These little beauties have lived side by side with man since the dawn of civilization and have learnt to adapt and make good of the waste that us humans discard.

The House Sparrow is an often overlooked bird and I guess that is because folk are over familiar with them.
It is a bird that we are use to seeing in our gardens and in the countryside, so perhaps a lot of people wouldn't give them a second look.

Just another boring House Sparrow...
Any truth in this statement?
Well for anyone who hasn't taken the time to sit and watch these birds for any length of time, then I guess they would say yes.
For those of us who have then it's definitely an almighty NO!

For me the humble, cheeky, noisey little House Sparrow is by far the most entertaining watch in the bird world...Thoroughly enchanting creatures.

So if you've never took the time to watch them closely, next time you get the opportunity please do so...You won't be disappointed.

Also please spare this thought...
If the current rate of decline continues, in a few short years the House Sparrow will be about as common as it's cousin the Tree Sparrow which is now a very rare sight in our gardens and rural areas.
Treasure them, you never know what you've got until it's gone.

Male House Sparrow

Female House Sparrow
Juvenile House Sparrow

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Canal Life

Since I started this blog back in January, I have posted images from many different locations and habitats from around the UK.
It may seem strange then, that it has taken so long to do a post about one of the most important of my local habitats, the canal network.

In the coming weeks, I'd like to share with you some of my favourite places along my local canal network and also the wildlife I encounter on route.
I would also like to explain a little bit about the history of the waterways around Manchester and their impact on the world as we know it today.

For now though, I'll just give you a little taster...
There are two canals close to where I live...The Peak Forest Canal and the Macclesfield Canal.
These two canals meet at a junction at the village of Marple.
From Marple you can take the Peak Forest Canal to Buxworth in Derbyshire to the south or to Manchester in the north via the junction with the Ashton Canal.
Via the Macclesfield Canal it is possible to join other canal networks at Stoke-On-Trent and the Midlands beyond.

Today I was at a stretch of the Macclesfield Canal near High Lane which is a few miles south of Marple. The canals in this area are quite rightly regarded as some of the most beautiful in Britain and are very popular with Narrowboaters and pleasure seekers...

The canal offers a vast variety of flora and fauna and this area is rich in many wild flowers which attract many insects like this Painted Lady Butterfly...

In the grass at the side of the canal towpath there is plenty of clover in bloom at the moment and clover is a big favourite of the Bees...

There's plenty of birdlife to be seen and I couldn't resist a shot of this scruffy looking Robin...

Finally for now, perhaps the most common sight on the canal and every other body of water for that matter...The Mallard!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Clumsy Heron!

I came across this Grey Heron recently, stood on a mooring in the middle of a local lake.
I watched for a good 15 minutes while the bird waited patiently for his next meal to swim by...
After a while it looked like he was on to something...

Steady, this really isn't the time to lose your balance...

Too late, there goes his meal as well as his pride!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Puffin Marvelous!

There was some brilliant news reported in today's newspapers and on BBC television this morning concerning one of Britain's most popular birds the Puffin...
After a catastrophic decline in recent years, the population of the birds at England's largest colony at the Farne Islands has risen by 10% in the last 2 years.

The Puffin population rose steadily between 1970 and 1990, but a population boom between 1990 and 2000 saw the species peak at around 56,000 pairs.
Something occurred between 2003 and 2008 that sadly caused a 30% decline in these beautiful little creatures...

There were many theories to the reasons behind this dramatic fall, but nothing was conclusive.
It was feared that a shortage of food was to blame, especially the Puffins favourite the Sand eel, but these fears have now been proved to be ungrounded and there is said to be plenty of food available.
In an effort to pin-point the problem, researches fitted large numbers of Farne Island Puffins with GPS tags to monitor feeding habits.
The data collected from these tags revealed some very interesting findings...

It was thought that birds on the Island flew over 60 miles out to sea in search of food, but it was discovered that the majority (up to 75%) of the Puffins were travelling a much shorter distance of around 20 miles to an area of deep sea known as the 'Farnes Deep' to forage.

The data also showed that some birds took straight direct routes to the foraging area, while others took a much longer circular journey.

I thought the most interesting finding was regarding the Puffins diving habit...
It was thought that the bird would dive to a depth of around 5 metres in search of Sand eels, but the data revealed that the Puffins were actually reaching depths of around 25 metres.

Finally, a few Puffin facts for you to digest...

  • The Puffin stands only 12in tall.
  • Puffins spend up to 8 months per year out at sea.
  • Puffins usually live for 25-30 years, although the oldest recorded ringed bird was 37.
  • Puffins pair for life.
  • Puffins use the same burrows every year.
  • The female bird lays just one egg and both parents take turns sitting on it.
  • The Young stay in the burrow for 45 days before leaving home in the night to avoid predators.
  • A young puffin spends its first three years at sea before setting foot on land.