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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dodging the April showers in the Derwent Valley

Been back in the UK for the past 10 days or so and its been wonderful to catch up with friends and family although, as per usual, there never seems to be enough time to see everybody!

The weather has been appalling! Wettest April on record by all accounts and birding and photographic opportunities have been limited to say the least. I did manage a half day out and about with my old mucker and birding mate Mark in the Derwent Valley last Thursday and in between the showers we actually had a spectacular day starting off just 5 minutes after we got out of the car with 4 Common Cranes flying North East over Allerthorpe Common a cracking good record!

Got plenty of pics of them and we also saw them again later in the day nr Wheldrake Ings .... who knows maybe they'll breed. There's a reasonable sized and growing colony in Norfolk and a pair nesting every year on Hatfield Moor in South Yorks.

Those Cranes were a lucky sighting and given the poor weather ... rain and bad light, lucky to get any pics at all. Tragically then I'm having to post some pics of my best mate and birding pal Mark .... almost smiling on the 2nd one!

Very close to where I took these pics of photogenic Mark on the Pocklington Canal we saw something rippling in the water, then a brown shape came into view and lo and behold realised we were clocking an Otter! Shame I didn't get a pic, tried in vain but wasn't quick enough, but a few moments later we saw it again, closer this time and as we just stood, stock still in wonderment (this was a first for both of us) we were amazed and enthralled to see it emerge from the reeds up the bank and walk across the path right in front of us! Awesome memory. (pic right taken at nearby Wheldrake Ings - courtesy of York Evening Press)

We really did have a splendid day tramping around the Derwent Valley getting our feet wet, lots of good banter and the enforced rain breaks gave us time to plan our next birding trip .... the Camargue in May. The Cranes and the Otter were special moments but despite the weather this was a good birding day. In between the showers there was sunshine, blue sky and most importantly Southwesterly winds bringing in good selection of migrants including a couple of Swifts beating North right across our heads, at least 2 Cuckoos, Sedge Warbler, a magnificent flock of about 30 Black Tailed Godwits and Wheldrake Ings and an unexpected gem of a bird at Thornton Ings - a Black Tern, looking very incongruous flitting around in the chilly rain. We also had a good Peregrine Falcon that appeared to be nesting in one of the big pylons near Melbourne, a couple of Yellow Wagtails and several singing Corn Buntings. Add to this a late Wigeon, several burbling Curlews, Redshank and a nice little flock of 20 or so summer plumaged Dunlin and you have to say we pulled out the best of what was about in trying conditions! I leave you with a nice view of the Pocklington Canal and a very wet Linnet at Wheldrake Ings!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'Beyond the Gap' Summer tour promo clip

Band is complete, we have 50 plus songs ready n rehearsed and ready to tour this Summer ..... camp sites, local bars, hotels, festivals and anywhere else that will have us! We set off in June, still taking bookings and will update our tour dates as we have them!

Enjoy the clip - please email us at for any booking requests

Monday, April 16, 2012

Free as bird, cuckoos n wags by the river

Still not convinced I'm getting the very best out of the new lens, 400mm just seems to be leaving me struggling for a bit more reach but given that most of the birds I shoot are 'on the hoof' and not from a hide I can't ever get very close. Still these aren't bad. A nice soaring Buzzard is one of the best I have taken of this ubiquitous raptor. Could have cropped this more but I kinda like the sense of space beneath the bird.

Stalked a Cuckoo the other day and got within 100m before this one spotted me and flew off.
Been trying to photograph cuckoos for ages and thought my best chance was one on flight so this perched and calling male bird was a bit of a bonus, even though I never got close enough for it to fill the frame.

And (before a certain somebody tells me that you should never begin a sentence with 'and') .... here's a bird you might see quite often flying around your garden or local park but rarely caught on film flying so feel rather smug about this shot of a White Wagtail (the European sub species of the Pied Wagtail).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Getting down and dirty!

Well at long last my new lens has arrived .... all been a bit of a do to be honest and have to say that after placing my order on Feb 28th and paying an extra £30 for express delivery I'm less than impressed to be unwrapping my Canon EF 400mm lens some 6 weeks later and with a wapping 267 euros import / VAT tax to pay to boot!

Still getting to grips with it and trying not to compare it with the excellent results I got from my defunct Tamron big lens but early results are ok.

I seem to have got into photographing closer to hand subjects like flowers and butterflies of late, keeping my eyes trained less on the skies and more on the hedgerows; new lens or not, this habit seems to have stuck with me but hey the results have been good and already had several wild flower and butterfly pics accepted by stock sites.

New flowers coming up all the time at the moment of course and not being much of a botanist it's been a real challenge id'ing the flowers I photograph (thank you Google images!). So here's an opportunity to show off my new found knowledge ..... first off are some lovely Grape Hyacinths (left)

For me, getting good pics of wild flowers is all about 2 things - good light and interesting angles. Light I can usually gauge ok and can usually be rectified with any decent photographic software if necessary but as I have discovered the interesting angles usually involve some degree of getting horizontal .... in other words lying down and getting dirty on the earth!

Apart from getting grubby, thorned and nettled I also lost a mobile phone out of my jacket pocket taking some of these!

From top to bottom - Buttercups against the blue sky, early emerging Wood Anemones at eye level and Cuckoo Flowers (or lady's smock) against the river.

Whilst scrambling about like this in a local meadow recently I was lucky enough to spot a different looking butterfly flitting about which was quickly joined by another of the same kind. Swallowtails! Dashing and stunningly beautiful here's the best shot of one of them and although the second shot is out of focus I've included because it only very nearly captures the pair of them mating!
Swallowtails are just awesome and being relatively scarce even in these parts they certainly add a taste of the exotic to a morning walk in the early Springtime. A lot more common are the yellow Brimstones that have been out for a few weeks now - tricky to photograph as they never seem to settle but this one did rest a while on a Lungwort flower head, albeit with closed wings (pic right) producing a pleasing image, and to complete my little collection of April flutterbies here's what I believe is a Speckled Wood (below)

You never know what you might find when you're scrabbling around in the grass trying to get a decent photographic angle and this big beetle (sorry, but no idea what species) certainly seemed nosey so I snapped him with my macro lens!
Now then, before you all start thinking I've turned into an amateur botanist come bug hunter, although my eyes have spent more time than usual trained on the ground my main prey is always the birds and here's a couple with the new lens. First up is a nice female Blackcap (right), a returning Summer migrant and one of many that are singing from nearly every hedgerow at the moment, and pictured below are a couple of the best shots of a briefly glimpsed male Montague's Harrier.

Have to that so far I've not really noticed a huge amount of difference between the Canon and my old Tamron which at 500mm had more reach but I guess time will tell. I'm considering a 1.4 or even a 2 x converter for the Canon now (more expense!)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Early Spring wild flowers compensate for late delivery of mega lens!

Still waiting for my new lens to arrive, been over a month since  ordered my Canon EF400 and although I've received a reassuring email to say it will be delivered tomorrow I'm sure missing many opportunities with several great birds passing over the barn in recent days ..... more in the March bird report but an Osprey, Black Kite and Black Stork in the last few days of March were all noteworthy!

Meanwhile, I've been more or less forced into using my other lenses and whilst neither are any good for bird shots I have been rather enjoying the challenge of trying to catch some of the early spring flowers that have been been emerging. Here's a few decent flower 'portraits'

From to to bottom here we have 'Lesser Celandines', 'White Campion', 'Orange Flame wild Tulips', 'Pink Apple Blossom' and lastly 'Common Lungwort'.