WildImaging: Blog http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog en-us (C) WildImaging - All Rights Reserved (WildImaging) Fri, 10 Jan 2014 20:40:00 GMT Fri, 10 Jan 2014 20:40:00 GMT http://wildimaging.co.uk/img/s1/v46/u103524673-o423042457-50.jpg WildImaging: Blog http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog 90 120 Mr Badger Works for his Dinner http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/mr-badger-works-for-his-dinner Having watched the badgers hoovering up loose peanuts from the garden path, I wanted to see some more active foraging.  I placed an upturned flower pot on the path with some nuts on top and a flat rock with nuts on top and underneath in the same place that I had filmed them before.  3 nights of appalling wind and rain followed with no visits to the site.  Last night I got lucky and the little video clips have been assembled below.  You can see how he had no trouble moving the props around.

On a technical note, the infra-red light on the trailcam has taken to cutting out after a few seconds probably as the batteries are getting a bit flat.  Also, the brightness of the light is insufficient to give a very nice image.  I took some technical advice from Mike Leigh-Mallory and Yusuf Akhtar and I have ordered an infra-red floodlight from eBay.  I hope to drastically improve the lighting and we'll see if the video quality improves much.  Watch this space!

Mr Badger Works for his DinnerMr Badger Works for his Dinner

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(WildImaging) Badger Bushnell Trailcam Peanuts Somerset http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/mr-badger-works-for-his-dinner Sun, 22 Dec 2013 20:37:02 GMT
How Many Badgers use my Garden Path? http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/how-many-badgers-use-my-garden-path In early December 2013 I had my first success filming a badger walking along my garden path using a battery operated Bushnell trailcam.  The second time I tried it, the pile of peanuts I put out as badger bait was ignored the first night but on the second there were badger visits at approximately 8pm, 9pm, midnight and 5am (precise times on time stamp).  Close and repeated scrutiny has led me to believe these are not all videos of the same badger.  I'd be interested to hear what you think - I have my own theories... :)

Badgers in my garden.Badgers in my garden.

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(WildImaging) Bushnell Somerset badger trailcam http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/how-many-badgers-use-my-garden-path Mon, 16 Dec 2013 21:20:59 GMT
A Badger in my Semi-Urban Garden http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/a-badger-in-my-semi-urban-garden I have been aware for some years that badgers occasionally wander down the path by my garden.  Last year an attempt to capture them using a trailcam yielded lots of cats, squirrels and a fox.  I had used as bait some peanut butter spread on a rock.  This year having had an encounter with the badger I decided to have another go, this time using peanuts scattered near the badger's door onto the path.  The first day yielded cats, the second squirrels and then this morning I noticed all the peanuts had gone.  I was delighted to find a huge looking badger on the webcam and surprised to see it was captured at only 8pm last night.  The plan now is to try to get to know its movements a little better and then figure out if I have a chance of getting some more attractive pictures.

How lovely to have this wild creature sharing my garden.  :-)

A Badger in my Bridgwater Garden

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(WildImaging) Badger Bridgwater Bushnell trailcam http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/a-badger-in-my-semi-urban-garden Fri, 06 Dec 2013 21:17:39 GMT
China Trip 2013 - Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/5/china-trip-2013-Xian-and-the-terracotta-warriors Before the memory of our China holiday fades any further, I think I'd better get up the rest of our photographs and memories.  The last blog post dealt with Beijing and the Great Wall of China and it was with regret as well as excitement that we moved on to the next phase of our fortnight holiday.  Our tour guide left us at one of the giant railway stations in Beijing, installing us in the correct train in a sleeper compartment for an overnight trip to Xi'an.  The scale of the the station was everything you'd expect of such a huge and populous city and we could readily believe that this was the main mass transport system for the country.  We had a 'soft' sleeper compartment with 4 comfy bunks.  The 'hard' sleeper compartments had 6 bunks each and less padding but many people travelled vast distances on hard seats.

Sleeper compartment on the train to Xian The train arrived early enough for us to be able to go to our new rather characterless hotel in time for breakfast and a shower before setting off to see the terracotta warriors.  These were discovered quite by chance in 1974 when some local farmers found 'body parts' while digging a well on their farmland.  The story is summarised well on Wikipedia.  When the importance of the find was realised, the might of the Chinese bureaucracy swung into action, further sites were uncovered and all the important areas were covered with large well-lit barn-like structures and a museum.  Another very Chinese feature is that before tourists like ourselves were allowed to visit the site, we had to be taken to a factory where reproductions for export are made together with a multitude of other artefacts of interests for collectors of trinkets.  Below is the local equivalent of the seaside 'hole in the picture' photo opportunity where we were all encouraged to pose...

Warrior with a new head. The actual site was of course also well provided with shops and restaurants and this area clearly boasted a thriving fur trade.  Whilst avoiding these shops, I was pretty sure that the largest pelts on sale were from long haired German Shepherd dogs and many had been dyed different colours and with odd patterns.  Here is a small selection of pictures of the archaeological site.

Terracotta Warriors 1 Terracotta Warriors 3 Terracotta Warriors 4 Terracotta Warriors fragments Terracotta Warriors in the repair shop Here's a view of the repair shop where the fragments of warriors are reassembled into a whole.

Terracotta Horse Let's not forget the horses - the army had to be able to travel and to mount its cavalry.Terracotta Warriors 7 Within the museum, the atmosphere was enhanced with gloomy lighting and they showcased some of the different types of statue.  This standing archer is tall slim and fit.  The more senior figures by contrast had fancy clothes, hats and pot bellies.  Some stereotypes seem to persist to this day.  :)Terracotta Warriors standing archer Quite nearby, as if to upstage the incredibly detailed work of the potters, half size bronze chariots were found.  These, like the terracotta figures had been damaged by landfalls and possibly by human hand but these had also been painstakingly reconstructed.  The level of detail in the metalwork was extraordinary and the bridles, manes etc were all made of individual metal pieces.

Bronze Chariot and Horses 1 Bronze Chariot and Horses 2 Bronze Chariot and Horses 3 Bronze Chariot and Horses 4 The city of Xi'an itself was at one time well preserved but has now been largely redeveloped with the compulsory tower blocks everywhere you look.  There are a few exceptions.  There is an intact city wall about 9 miles long in a rectangular configuration.  You take your life in your hands crossing busy roads to get to the entrance and to be honest there's nothing to see from it except the sides of tower blocks through smog.  There are various temples, one of which we visited but the highlight beyond doubt is the Muslim quarter famous for its street food (yum) and trinkets (didn't look).  We ate for virtually nothing and loved it and loved the people.

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(WildImaging) Xian terracotta army warriors http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/5/china-trip-2013-Xian-and-the-terracotta-warriors Fri, 24 May 2013 19:27:52 GMT
Woodchat Shrike at Chew Valley Lake 2013 http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/woodchat-shrike-at-chew-valley-lake-2013 This gorgeous female woodchat shrike has been around for a week now and I've been fortunate enough to have a couple of sessions photographing it.  This is a lifer for me and is a complete delight to watch as it flits about catching mainly bees.  Apparently they can take larger prey items including small birds even though it isn't much bigger than a sparrow itself.  One person I've spoken to has seen it impale insects on thorns, saving them for later, but I haven't been that lucky.Woodchat shrike 1Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 2Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 3Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 4Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 5Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 6Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 7Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 8Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 9Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 10Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 11Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 12Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator

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(WildImaging) Chew Valley Lake female woodchat shrike woodchat shrike http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/woodchat-shrike-at-chew-valley-lake-2013 Fri, 26 Apr 2013 18:41:14 GMT
Arctic Terns at Apex Lake, Burnham-on-Sea http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/arctic-terns-at-apex-lake-burnham-on-sea These gorgeous birds have been passing through Somerset over the last week or two and half a dozen or more have been feeding at Apex Lake, Burnham-on-Sea.  At this site, families with kids, dog walkers, model boat enthusiasts, fishermen, birders and bird photographers mingle most days of the week.  If you don't mind the activity, it's a site that produces good photo opportunities and the terns are the latest in a long line of photogenic arrivals.Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaeaArctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 1Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 2Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 3Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 4Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 5Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea

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(WildImaging) Apex lake Arctic tern Burnham-on-Sea Sterna paradisaea http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/arctic-terns-at-apex-lake-burnham-on-sea Mon, 22 Apr 2013 07:53:01 GMT
Beijing and the Great Wall of China http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/beijing-and-the-great-wall-of-china Growing up in Hong Kong as I did must have helped me feel at home faster than the 'average' European tourist visiting a bustling Chinese city.  The impact of the very busy roads, pollution, colour, sights and sounds is quite extraordinary.  There is change in evidence wherever you look.  In Beijing, as well as skyscrapers all around, there is another element to the skyline of giant cranes building taller towers and at ground level, old buildings being torn down as the base for still more high rises.

We stayed at the Bamboo Garden Hotel, an island of tranquility at the edge of the ancient Hutong area of Beijing.  Here's a picture of part of this very pretty hotel after dark.

Bamboo Garden Hotel Bamboo Garden Hotel after dark

Whilst we had guides arranged for part of our China trip, often the highlights were the islands of unstructured time wandering around the streets, sampling food from small shops and stalls and watching the bustle of local life.  All of the areas we wanted to see were within a 3 mile walk of the hotel and we spent many happy hours tramping the streets.

Fast food Beijing style Shop selling toffee coated lotus fruit and possibly sparrow kebabs!

Sampling the street food Miscellaneous sweet pastry, squid kebab and potatoes coated in garlic...

The risks of eating street food did not escape us and neither did we escape the bugs.  Two out of the four of us had stomach upsets at some part of the two week trip and three had colds.

One of the greatest pleasures for us was seeing how many adults went either on their own or in company to the many parks around the city to take exercise or sing and dance together.  What might have seemed childish or embarrassing to us was just part of normal life and adults of all ages seemed to take part.  Some of the activities were very unfamiliar - eg walking and suddenly shouting out at intervals exercised lungs and legs, one man walked briskly round a lake with his arms held out aeroplane style and clearly hurting, others put their legs through gaps in bars and massaged their muscles against the steel tubes.  Many areas that looked at first like children's play areas in fact turned out to be adult outdoor gyms.  Here a picture of three of us on a leg exercising with William, the most athletic of the four of us, looking down.

Playing in the park Exercising is a serious and communal activity in Beijing

We saw surprisingly few people doing Tai Chi but we encountered a diminutive little chap who must have been in his 70s doing a Kung Fu type routine.  He was delighted to be watched and was even more delighted when William did a little routine that he has been learning as part of his Chinese University language course.  Katy then managed a cartwheel/flip and Margot and I contributed encouragement and applause.

Getting back to the serious business of sightseeing, we had a day hiking along the Great Wall of China.  What an amazing structure and history to go with it.  At its longest period it spanned 10,000km.  Currently much of it is absent or derelict but we had a great time walking along a well restored 10km stretch little used by tourists and had it almost to ourselves.  Paul, our young guide was very knowledgeable and very fit and walked the same stretch five times in the week we were there!  We were lucky with the weather but the haze meant the photos won't win any competitions.  Here's a selection of the better ones.

Great Wall of China 1 Great Wall of China 2 Great Wall of China 3 Great Wall of China 4 Great Wall of China 5 Great Wall of China 6 Great Wall of China 7 Great Wall of China 8 Great Wall of China

You'll see that this final picture has wall missing and a badly paved surface.  Most of my family and friends know I'm not much good with heights and there was a particularly steep uphill section with a poor surface and no walls 100m on from here (visible) which I had a real problem getting up.  Eyes fixed on the ground, hands and feet gripping on and not talking to anyone.  Phew, I still feel sweaty thinking about it.  I hasten to add there was no danger!

A little more about food in Beijing before some more sightseeing stuff.  It's said of the Cantonese in particular that anything with four legs that isn't a chair or a table, anything underwater that isn't a submarine and anything that flies but isn't a plane is fit for the table.  We didn't go to Canton but there was plenty of evidence of unusual foodstuffs nonetheless.
Donkey burgers anyone? It appears this is one of a chain of donkey burger outlets.  There's no misunderstanding, we checked the Chinese characters as well.  Other places reminded us of home but rather more honest than our own outlets about the nature of their food...Fried stuff and drink... Fried stuff and drink...


Sightseeing in Beijing itself can never be complete without a trip to the Forbidden City.  Surrounded by a large moat and massive walls, the interior is a mix of huge courtyards and temple-like structures and an area of courtyard-style houses and narrow lanes.  It is all in pretty good condition and there is evidence of continual renovation.  You could easily spend a day looking around with a guide but that's not really our thing and we walked through fairly briskly avoiding the main crush of tourists and taking a few pictures.

Forbidden City Wall and Moat Forbidden City Entrance Entrance to the Forbidden CityChairman Mao ZeDong Chairman Mao Zedong

While Mao looks calmly over the hordes of visitors to the Forbidden City, he seemed fairly irrelevant once inside the ancient structure.Forbidden City 1 Forbidden City 2 Forbidden City 3 Forbidden City 4 Outside the southern entrance to the city is Tiananmen Square which is a truly massive area.  A photograph would need to be wall covering size to do it justice.  This is three wide angle shots stitched together in photoshop.Tiananmen Square Looking down on the Forbidden City from the Buddhist temple in the park to the north shows the smog that the inhabitants of Beijing have to put up with on a daily basis.Forbidden City in the Smog One thing that many people will recognise is the love of the Chinese people for posed photographs.  My family and friends will already have noticed far more pictures of our family included here than normal which is a sort of tongue-in-cheek nod to the practice in China.  A new twist to the theme which I hadn't encountered before is the practice of taking pictures in costume often depicting scenes from history or Chinese Opera.  We managed to persuade Margot and Katy to join in the fun at the temple overlooking the city.Margot and Katy in Costume Usain Bolt Fan The Usain Bolt pose seemed lost on the people running the stall.  Good job we didn't get Katy to do the Mobot!Interesting House near the Forbidden City Last but not least, here's a rather unusual example of a house in a Hutong area near the Forbidden City.  Roof terraces seem to be an up and coming thing and are used by some of the tourist restaurants.  Motorbike/trikes like this are a very common mode of transport and are often covered in against the weather.  Bicycles while common, are nothing like as common as they used to be.  Many people use electric scooters and of course there are cars everywhere now.

From Beijing we moved on to Xian, a historic city from the days of the old Silk Road.  More in my next post.

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(WildImaging) Beijing Beijing smog China 2013 Forbidden City Great Wall of China Posing in Chinese Costumes Tiananmen Square http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/beijing-and-the-great-wall-of-china Fri, 19 Apr 2013 08:29:43 GMT
Birds Photographed on China Holiday 2013 With Canon SX50 HS http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/birds-photographed-on-china-holiday-2013-with-canon-sx50-hs  

China Map and ItineraryChina Map (small)

 

My family and I are just back from an exciting 2 week holiday in China during which we visited Beijing, Xian and the Guilin area.  The map gives a feel for the distances covered and modes of travel.

This was very much a family holiday and not aimed at birding and I left behind my proper bird photography kit and opted instead for a Canon SX50 HS compact superzoom camera to cover the photographic needs of the whole holiday, 24mm to 1200mm in one small package.  It has a sluggish LED viewfinder or you can use it like a compact and view the scene on the LCD on the back of the camera.  It is slow to respond in comparison to an SLR and focus is reluctant in some settings.  I'm sure I got more pics overall than I would have done had I taken my big kit as it was so easy to keep it with me all the time.

I hope you enjoy the following pictures, a mixture of reasonable quality and simply record shots covering the entire tour.

Initially we thought that Beijing was home to only our own variety of magpie but when settled into the hotel, we found the garden to be full of the very beautiful and vocal Azure-winged magpie. Azure-winged magpieAzure-winged magpie - Cyanopica cyanus The local dove which looked very like our own collared dove in fact turned out to be the spotted dove.  A common sight in parks and on rooftops. Spotted doveSpotted Dove - Spilopelia chinensis Spotted dove 2Spotted Dove - Spilopelia chinensis Another very common bird in Beijing is the tree sparrow which takes on the role of the house sparrow in this busy urban settling. Tree sparrowTree sparrow - Passer montanus Tree sparrow 2Tree sparrow - Passer montanus The area we stayed in close to the oldest part of the city was full of parks.  The sparrow above was clinging to the eaves of a small temple-like roof over a notice board.  While watching this I became aware of fieldfares calling and flying about in their usual manic fashion.  However, on hunting one down in the camera lens, I found they were red-throated thrushes instead.  Very active and hard to photograph but I got lucky with this one. Red-throated thrushRed-throated thrush - Turdus ruficollis Next on the list of surprises in the gardens of the Temple of Heaven were some Chinese grosbeak foraging under the conifers.  I was very disappointed not to get better shots than these.  Great birds! Chinese grosbeak 1Chinese grosbeak - Eophona migratoria Chinese grosbeak 2Chinese grosbeak - Eophona migratoria Chinese grosbeak 3Chinese grosbeak - Eophona migratoria The reason I had been particularly keen to visit the garden of the Temple of Heaven is that there is usually a winter roost of long-eared owls.  Unfortunately these were not to be found.  One thing we found in China was a distinct lack on ornithologists/birdwatchers.  We couldn't just ask someone with a Swarovski scope where we should be looking!

I had high hopes that the Great Wall of China would be a birding hotspot.  The slopes seemed to have some small flocks of tits but with the SX50, I just couldn't lock onto any birds before they flew off.  On the wall itself we had a wonderful encounter with some remarkably tame alpine accentors.  What gorgeous little birds they are. Alpine accentorAlpine accentor - Prunella collaris Alpine accentor 2Alpine accentor - Prunella collaris

Xian unfortunately yielded no new bird photos although we had a brief glimpse of a large raptor which we weren't able to identify.  The best area by a long way was down in the Guilin region.  The monsoon had started but we were lucky and most rain fell at night.  There was a very noisy dawn chorus with one of the main contributors being the Chinese bulbul. Chinese bulbulChinese bulbul - Pycnonotus sinensis On a bridge over the river Li in Yangshuo I encountered the plumbeous redstart.  This specimen seemed in good spirits but appears on the picture to have a problem with its right foot. Plumbeous redstartPlumbeous Redstart - Rhyacornis fuliginosa Other little birds flitted at high speed through the lush foliage including the Oriental white-eye.  Here's a record shot of one that ventured onto a roof momentarily. Oriental white-eyeOriental white-eye - Zosterops palpebrosus My daughter drew my attention to a tiny finch rather similar morphologically to a zebra finch.  No camera in my hands and gone when I returned.  :-(

A cycle ride through the paddy fields yielded flocks of what looked at a brief glance like big goldfinches.  When they slowed enough for a picture, they showed themselves to be Oriental greenfinch.  Lots of bright yellow flashes when they move. Oriental greenfinchOriental Greenfinch - Chloris sinica For me the bird of the trip was a long-talied shrike.  Disappointing pictures mainly because the camera seemed to find it hard to focus.  What a great bird though. Long-tailed shrikeLong-tailed shrike - Lanius schach Long-tailed shrike 2Long-tailed shrike - Lanius schach The Oriental magpie-robin was present in the same area.  Never seemed to stop moving! Oriental magpie-robinOriental Magpie-Robin - Copsychus saularis Our last 24hrs was spent in the hills of Longji in a small village in rice terraces at about 850m elevation.  Red-rumped swallows nested in our hotel. Red-rumped swallowRed-rumped swallow - Cecropis daurica Very white looking great tits (?Eastern) roamed the fields with white wagtails.  A bird on a cable seems to be a male grey bushchat. Brown accentorBrown accentor - Prunella fulvescens One day I'd love to return on a proper birding tour with a guide. Such wonderful scenery and people and I'm sure that if you knew where to look, the full richness of the birdlife of China would be a real eye-opener.

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(WildImaging) Azure-winged magpie Birds of China Brown accentor Canon SX50 HS Chinese grosbeak Long-tailed shrike Oriental magpie-robin http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/birds-photographed-on-china-holiday-2013-with-canon-sx50-hs Mon, 08 Apr 2013 08:21:53 GMT
White Fronted Goose at Sharpham on the Somerset Levels http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/3/white-fronted-goose-at-sharpham-on-the-somerset-levels I was lucky enough to find this unusual visitor close to the road near the Durston Peat Works on only my second attempt.  It was hanging out with two greylags and was about 10m the other side of a gate into a field.  Never having seen one before I was very cautious and parked opposite the gate, slid out of my car, extracted the camera from the boot and rested the camera on the roof of the car.  The geese were well aware of me but quickly settled.  They had clearly grown used to all the comings and goings at the peat works and I soon realised that they were more alarmed by the various vehicles on the road than by me and in the end, I walked right up to the gate and continued taking pics at pretty close range.

White Fronted Goose 1White-fronted goose - Anser albifrons White Fronted Goose 2White-fronted goose - Anser albifrons White Fronted Goose 3White-fronted goose - Anser albifrons White Fronted Goose 4White-fronted goose - Anser albifrons

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(WildImaging) Anser albifrons white-fronted goose http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/3/white-fronted-goose-at-sharpham-on-the-somerset-levels Sun, 03 Mar 2013 19:35:05 GMT
Twite at Aust Warth http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/twite-at-aust-warth There have been two or possibly three twite seen at the Severn Bridge end of the Aust Warth salt marsh for the last few days.  They seem to flit between the marsh, the grassland and the bare trees near the house at the bottom of the hill where they sit and chatter in the top branches.  None of this makes for good photography but it was nice to add another species to my catalogue and they are sweet little birds.

Twite at Aust Warth 1Twite - Carduelis flavirostris Twite at Aust Warth 2Twite - Carduelis flavirostris Twite at Aust Warth 3Twite - Carduelis flavirostris Twite at Aust Warth 4Twite - Carduelis flavirostris

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(WildImaging) Aust warth Twite Carduelis flavirostris Twite photos http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/twite-at-aust-warth Thu, 21 Feb 2013 18:02:00 GMT
Pied-Billed Grebe at RSPB Ham Wall http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/pied-billed-grebe-at-rspb-ham-wall Yesterday a report came in on the SOS Bird News messageboard that a pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) had been spotted at RSPB Ham Wall and was performing well in front of the second viewing platform.  This reserve is best known for it's winter spectacular - huge starling murmurations - but it also gets it's share of rare visitors including at one time little bitterns.

The forecast for today was good in that there was no rain but poor in that thick fog was forecast for the first half of the day.  I pitched up at about 09.30 when I saw from Twitter that James Packer had spotted it in the gloom.  I tried some shots in the fog and, never having tried this before, was intrigued to know what they might turn out like.  Below is a taster - a heavily cropped shot of the bird swallowing a fish.  Interestingly monochrome and very flat with all the wavelengths compressed into a small band as shown in the histogram next to the photo.

Pied-billed Grebe in FogPied-billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps Fortunately the light improved a little and I had a second session later in the day with better light although the grebe didn't come particularly close and I had no sunshine.  Probably the highlight of the day was a real battle between the grebe and a large roach which appeared to end in the roach getting away.  Definitely a case of the eyes being bigger than the belly.

Pied-billed grebe 3Pied billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps

Pied-billed grebe 1Pied-billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed grebe 2Pied-billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed grebe callingPied-billed grebe 4Pied-billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed grebe preening

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(WildImaging) Ham Wall photographs of pied-billed grebe pied-billed grebe http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/pied-billed-grebe-at-rspb-ham-wall Sat, 16 Feb 2013 20:03:16 GMT
Smew Pair at Decoy Hide http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/smew-pair-at-decoy-hide For the last few weeks there has been a pair of smew visible from Decoy Hide at Shapwick Heath NNR on the Somerset Levels.  More recently, a second redhead smew has been on the same lake but rather more mobile.  I was lucky enough to catch up with the pair this morning on a pretty grim dark winter's morning.  They confined themselves to the stretch of water in front of the hide but usually well off to the left hand side.  At one point after a long dive, the drake came up wearing a broad sash of brown weed which he continued to wear for the next 15 minutes.  They are obviously very much in love at the moment (suitably close to Valentine's Day), indulging in much chest puffing and courtship behaviour and I observed them to mate on one occasion.  Unfortunately they are not so wrapped up in each other that they have become unaware of their surroundings and they were very nervous when they heard voices from the path and flew off when more people arrived at the hide (fortunately not for long). Well worth a visit and I may try again when the light is more favourable.

Technical Note:  Here are some pictures taken this morning at high ISO (up to 1600) and lowish shutter speeds.  They are all cropped at least 50% before being resized for web presentation and all required noise reduction.

Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 1 Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 3Smew - Mergus albellus Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 5Smew - Mergus albellus Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 4Smew - Mergus albellus Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 6Smew - Mergus albellus

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(WildImaging) Decoy Hide Shapwick Heath NNR Smew photographs http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/smew-pair-at-decoy-hide Tue, 12 Feb 2013 21:08:46 GMT
Trailcam Investigations in the Garden http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/trailcam-investigations-in-the-garden A week or so ago, Margot, my better half, alerted me to the presence of an unseen digger of holes in the garden.  These were about 4 inches across and 2 inches deep and in little groups along one edge of the garden.  Earth was scattered in a very untidy and inconsiderate way across the path.  At last a proper job for a trailcam investigation!

The crime scene

Mystery garden diggings Mystery Diggings 2 As I suggested on Twitter, possibilities I considered were a fox (see first trailcam exploits), badger and covert metaldetector users, or at least those are the possibilities that I considered that I'm telling you about!

Investigation Setup

Bushnell Trailcam on Bracket Fox Results of the first night of surveillance yielded several cats, a very fetching video clip of me and then this!

Clearly this handsome fox was not owning up to being responsible for the diggings.  However, some more appeared on the lawn and we knew he'd been seen in that area and was easily able to hop the low fence whereas a badger couldn't.

Fresh Diggings

Fresh Diggings in the Lawn This is actually a series of 3 linked holes, all at much the same depth as the initial ones.  At around this point Rob Chace helpfully suggested it might be the work of elves.  As everyone knows, elves don't show up on trailcams so I'd never be able to prove that theory so my only hope was to find something else doing the digging.  To increase my chances a little for the second night, I sprinkled a few raisins over the first set of holes and then reset the camera to record day and night.  Here's what transpired.

Night Two

Well I expect most of you guessed that this would be the outcome.  We have a large walnut tree in the garden and every autumn squirrels spend time burying nuts all over the place.  Now we know they remember where they put them and saplings will mark the spots of all the ones they've forgotten. 

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(WildImaging) Bushnell trailcam Fox and Squirrel on Trailcam Trailcam investigation http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/trailcam-investigations-in-the-garden Mon, 04 Feb 2013 10:40:57 GMT
Male Hen Harrier at Catcott Lows http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/male-hen-harrier-at-catcott-lows There has been a male hen harrier seen from the hide at Catcott Lows aver the last fortnight and I was lucky enough to see it today on my second attempt.  What a great bird!  Only managed a pretty distant shot or two.

Hen HarrierHen harrier - Circus cyaneus

A word of caution.  If you intend to visit, the track that leads to the reserve is very slippy with mud at present and full of potholes.  I managed to slide my car off the edge and needed the help of 5 burly birders to get back on again! 

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(WildImaging) Catcott Lows Nature Reserve Male hen harrier http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/male-hen-harrier-at-catcott-lows Fri, 01 Feb 2013 20:29:47 GMT
Big Otters, Little Otters and Birds http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/big-otters-little-otters-and-birds Getting up at 4.30 am is not my usual start to the day but I hadn't slept much anyway with the anticipation of a trip to Dorset to look for otters.  Jane, an enthusiastic local otter watcher had kindly agreed to meet up with me but despite my early start I was still late.  :(

There was a fantastic sunrise that morning but no pictures from me as the 600mm + 1.4x combination I had chosen wouldn't have done it justice.  I hoped for some otters in the sunlit river but it wasn't to be.  In fact it was only when we saw some other photographers that we realised we had missed the start of the fun.  It was rumoured that there might be up to seven otters in the area and I am amazed that we managed to see and photograph and film five or possibly six different animals.  A mother and single cub provided the initial entertainment and then a mother with two cubs appeared upstream.  There was possibly a cub from last year but keeping track of them all became a bit tricky.  The mum and single cub kept close together most of the time although the mother would dive and hunt while the cub waited on the side periodically.  The other family group seemed to have smaller younger cubs and they saw less of their mother and spent more time on the bank resting.  Light was gloomy for most of the time but we had periods of beautiful sunshine which showed their fur coats to advantage.  It was also freezing cold which meant that unbelievably, we had to say goodbye to the otters while they were still very active.

Here are a few of the very many pictures taken that day.

Mother otter visiting cubs

Otter 1Otter - Lutra lutra Mother about to enter water with cub

Otter 2Otter - Lutra lutra Mother pushing feisty cub away

Otther 3Otter - Lutra lutra Mother with cub on tree trunk

Otter 4Otter - Lutra lutra Cub on bank entering water.  Bubbles are from hunting mother.

Otter 5Otter - Lutra lutra

Cub on tree

Otter 6Otter - Lutra lutra Cub on bank

Otter 7Otter - Lutra lutra Other things of interest that morning included watching a kingfisher following the otters, presumably waiting for any damaged or dropped fish to appear.

KingfisherKingfisher - Alcedo atthis A goldcrest also flitted close enough for a shot.

GoldcrestGoldcrest - Regulus regulus All in all a great day, lots learned and too much to put in a single blog post so more may follow when I get a moment.

 

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(WildImaging) Otter lutra lutra otter and cubs in Dorset http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/big-otters-little-otters-and-birds Sun, 20 Jan 2013 20:25:45 GMT
Fun With Raptors at the Hawk Conservancy http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/fun-with-raptors-at-the-hawk-conservancy I had a very enjoyable session photographing various raptors in flight at the Hawk Conservancy in Hampshire this afternoon.  A beautiful blue sky, well behaved birds (and humans) and an opportunity to enjoy using my lighter lens handheld - the Sigma 120-300mm combined with the Canon 1.4x III.  See what you think of the results. 

White-headed vulture

White-headed Vulture 1White-headed vulture - Trigonoceps occipitalis (Captive) White-headed Vulture 2White-headed vulture - Trigonoceps occipitalis (Captive) White-headed Vulture 3White-headed vulture - Trigonoceps occipitalis (Captive) Black Kite

Black Kite 1Black Kite - Milvus migrans (Captive) Black Kite 2Black Kite - Milvus migrans (Captive) Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl 1Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus (Captive) Snowy Owl 2Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus (Captive) Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine FalconPeregrine falcon - Falco peregrinus (Captive) African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle 1African Fish Eagle - Haliaeetus vocifer (Captive) African Fish Eagle 2African Fish Eagle - Haliaeetus vocifer (Captive)

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(WildImaging) African Fish Eagle Black Kite Hawk conservancy Hampshire Snowy Owl White-headed vulture http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/fun-with-raptors-at-the-hawk-conservancy Fri, 11 Jan 2013 21:56:59 GMT
Glaucous Gull and Other Rarities http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/glaucous-gull-and-other-rarities In the last couple of weeks I've had some lovely times with a local barn owl but also connected with some rarer birds which has been interesting.  Firstly there were reports coming in of hawfinches in Bruton churchyard.  This seems to be a regular winter phenomenon and they feed in the mature yews for the most part.  Interestingly, a local I met in Bruton said they'd been coming for years and occasionally fed on feeders in his garden which is close to the church.  This is a well described phenomenon in Europe but doesn't seem to be common here.  I found these very tricky to photograph but for what it's worth here is a record shot of one hiding deep within a tree.

Hawfinch Bruton Churchyard 2012Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes It is possible to get substantially better shots of hawfinches in England.  Look here for some pictures I took in 2009 in the Forest of Dean.

In Exminster, a village near Exeter, there has been a rose-coloured starling visiting over the last few weeks.  As these normally live in Asia and overwinter in India, this was a bit of a surprise and I thought it would be rude not to pay it a visit.  Unfortunately, it wasn't very keen on coming close so I got some pretty poor record shots as below.

Rose-coloured Starling, Exminster 1Rose-coloured starling - Pastor roseus Rose-coloured Starling, Exminster 2Rose-coloured starling - Pastor roseus The third rarity has already been well documented by others.  This is a glaucous gull which is ridiculously tame and is hanging out at a nearby park, Apex Lake in Burnham-on-Sea.  It allows views to 10 feet or closer and is tamer than many of the commoner gulls that frequent the park.  I managed to get a picture of it eating a worm but like many birds habituated to urban areas, it's very keen on bread!

Technical note: For some reason whenever I take pictures at Apex Lake the white balance gets messed up.  I've tried to correct this but I fear the colours may still look odd.  Some shots were taken in fairly thick fog which made things look even stranger.

Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 1Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 2Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 3Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 4Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 5Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus

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(WildImaging) Glaucous gull Apex Lake Hawfinch Bruton Rose-coloured starling Exminster http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/glaucous-gull-and-other-rarities Tue, 08 Jan 2013 13:49:15 GMT
Barn Owl Hunting in Winter Sunshine http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/barn-owl-hunting-in-winter-sunshine After the wettest year on record, New Year's Day 2013 turned out dry and largely sunny with a blustery breeze.  The barn owl that has been regularly seen off the Steart Road by what have been dubbed the 'newt ponds', was quick off the mark and was seen hunting as early as 8am this morning.  I visited on three occasions and watched it hunting on all three from 10am through to 3.30pm.  This morning it was clearly hampered by the wind and all through the day it has had a pattern of short flights and then periods of sitting either in or just out of sight.  While sitting on various perches it has continued to scan for prey.  This pattern is in marked contrast to when I last photographed it during a brief gap in the rain when it hunted on the wing more or less continually.  On that occasion there was little wind.

There is at least one kestrel that hunts in overlapping territory and one one occasion today the kestrel knocked the owl to the ground even though the owl was hunting rather than flying with prey.  When the kestrel had moved off, I was relieved to see the barn owl fly up and start hunting again.

Technical note:  With low angle warm sunshine, ISO could be kept fairly low and much of the time it was under 800 - much better for noise control than when I last photographed the owl.  Contrast was naturally higher with the pale areas of the owl being tricky to expose correctly.  I tend to use manual settings and fire some test shots of the actual subject to check for 'blinkies' - areas of overexposure that flash when the picture is examined on the back of the camera.  I've found that a shutter speed of 1000 and over is generally adequate to freeze the action of the barn owl and have used the widest open f-stop of f5.6 for the 600mm f4 combined with 1.4x teleconverter that I've been using.

Barn Owl in Sunshine 1Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl in Sunshine 2Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl in Sunshine 3Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl in Sunshine 4Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl in Sunshine 5Barn owl - Tyto alba

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(WildImaging) Barn Owl Hunting owl http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/barn-owl-hunting-in-winter-sunshine Tue, 01 Jan 2013 20:12:41 GMT
Barn Owl Hunting During the Day at Steart http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/barn-owl-hunting-during-the-day-at-steart There has been a barn owl seen regularly over the last few weeks hunting along the fields by the road to Steart.  The near perpetual rainfall may well have made some of its hunting grounds vole-free and it now frequents a landscaped area of earth banks and shallow ponds which has been planted with grasses and wild flowers.  This must be a paradise for voles compared with the grazed and often partially flooded fields nearby.  The other change for this owl is that it is having to watch for weather windows between downpours so it is out during the day if that's when it's dry.  Today it was hunting from 11.50am when the rain started to ease.  I took the photographs below in poor light at about 1pm.

Technical note: Poor light essentially means low light in this instance.  This means I have to shoot at high ISO - 1600-2000 in this instance - in order to get a high enough shutter speed to freeze the action.  Even with the Canon 1D Mark IV noise becomes noticeable in cropped images at this sort of level of ISO. The colour is inherently less pleasing as well when it is dark grey clouds overhead.

Barn Owl at Steart 1Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl at Steart 2Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl at Steart 3Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl at Steart 4Barn owl - Tyto alba

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(WildImaging) Barn owl photos Steart 2012 http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/barn-owl-hunting-during-the-day-at-steart Sat, 29 Dec 2012 21:39:56 GMT
First Trailcam Trials 2012 http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/first-trailcam-trials-2012 I've been aware for probably 20 years or so that badgers and foxes trundle down the length of our garden path at night.  Although we are only minutes from the town centre, we live opposite a field which blends gradually into the Somerset countryside and the Quantock Hills.  At one time in the past the badgers were so noisy, we were woken by them clambering around a gate we'd erected to keep a puppy in the garden.  We've seldom actually seen them as they seem to visit us in the small hours of the night.  Recently my father-in-law encountered a fox in the middle of our lawn and with my increased awareness of 'trailcam technology', I decided to have a go at capturing our nocturnal visitors.

I spoke to my friend and advisor on all things wildlife Rob Chace and found that he'd recently updated his trailcam with a Bushnell model that films in infra-red and can take HD quality video.  With typical generosity he suggested that I borrow it and have a go before splashing out on one of my own so I did - thanks Rob!  I have a custom made gap in the fence specially for wildlife and I set up the camera opposite it.  Then stealing a tip from badgercam veteran Mike Leigh-Mallory, I loaded a rock with peanut butter and placed it in what I hoped was the regular path of my night time friends.  Two nights later, I captured some clips of the neighbour's cat and then this...

This is not great video but it illustrates the potential to find where wildlife is, when it's there and something about their habits.  It's great that anyone can do this and find out something about their garden or favourite area at night while at the same time getting a good night's sleep!  The technology is not vastly expensive and it runs on AA batteries.  What a fantastic head start the next generation of budding naturalists has!

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(WildImaging) Bushnell trailcam Fox visiting garden at night http://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/first-trailcam-trials-2012 Tue, 18 Dec 2012 21:07:12 GMT