Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Early Spiders...

Last weekend marked the start of the orchid season in the UK for my brother and myself  and the weather was perfect for our annual trip to the Dorset coast to look at the Early Spider Orchids.

These beautiful little orchids with their velvety brown 'spider' like flowers are nationally scarce and confined to short coastal turf along south-central to southeastern England.  They are among the very first orchids to flower and no orchid season would be complete without seeing them.

The Dorset coast, Early Spider country...

Early Spider Orchid 

Flowers resemble a spider?
You decide. 

No more than a few cm tall
you have to watch where you step!

A search for reptiles in the warm conditions also proved fruitful with 4 adders seen, including 3 males.

Adder Vipera berus, female
My first of the year!

Males are silver/grey and stunning.

Common Lizard Zootoca vivipara...
first of the year too.

The morning also yielded our first House Martin's, Swallows, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers of the Spring but the highlight was this flyover Red Kite.

Red Kite, highlight of the birds seen. 

Next, Early Purple and Green-winged orchids.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

This is your captain speaking...

Ok, so things have been very, very quiet on the Blog of late but I do have a good excuse... I've been learning to fly!

No, no, no! Not passenger stuff, I'm not flying people off on their hols or anything like that but I have just finished my PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations) training. That means I'm now a fully qualified commercial drone pilot as recognised by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)!  It's taken months of prep (and lots of practice around Gatwick :-) but I'm very pleased to have passed my ground school, written operations manual and my flight assessment practical test. I can now get paid for aerial photography and filming work - everything from roof inspections, land surveys, agricultural surveys or anything that anyone would liked photographed or filmed from an aerial perspective, including footage for promotional ads, tv and films etc.

Add caption

There are also an increasing number of drone applications for the study, survey and general filming of wildlife too, so watch this space. And if you need any aerial work undertaken, do get in touch. I can provide High res RAW or Jpeg images as well as 4K video footage, all at competitive prices!

My mean machine of choice...
Mavic 2 Pro
Of course I must mention the wonderful Aviation Systems Group (ASG) who were kind enough to let me join their course at the end of last year and a particular thanks to Jonathan Reed of RNAS Yeovilton who shared so much of his knowledge and experience of flying military drones with me. Jonathan's lessons got me through the course and the flight assessment so a huge thumbs up to him, great guy! Here's a little bit of video shot during the recent snow.

Until next time... it's up, up and away!

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Snake Professional...the right gear for the job

When catching or working with venomous snakes, it's important to keep a safe and sensible distance between you and the reptile in question. This will normally involve some form of specialised gear, usually tongs, hooks, gloves etc.

I've collected a variety of all of the above over the years, some good, some not so good. But when you are searching for species with potentially life changing, disfiguring or even potentially deadly venom, you have to use the very best equipment you can get. This is where Snake Professionals come in. If you regularly go looking for reptiles, chances are you've already heard of them. Snake Professionals are the no.1 source in the UK for quality field herping supplies and is run by the very amicable Clem and Maureen.

(Mrs)Santa was very kind to me and procured a new 40 " collapsible tong and extendable hook for future trips and boy are they good! I've purchased from Snake Professional before and I can't fault their service.

40" collapsible M1 Tong and extendable hook
Easy to pack in the suitcase for trips abroad.

Simple and quick to assemble in the field.

There are no external cables or moving mechanism exposed
for snakes to get entangled in.

Snake Professionals adapt their tongs with this super spongy foam/rubber
padding, which minimises any risk of harming the snake and ensures a good grip.

The smart blue aluminium tubing of the tongs houses the cable connecting the handle to the jaws and thus eliminates the possibility of a snake getting entangled. They are extremely well made and feel very durable - I'm a great believer in 'you get what you pay for'. Though not cheap, these will last a lifetime and are well worth the investment if you are a regular herper. They are certainly the best available in the UK and I can't wait to try them out next year!

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Little Bunting...

I've had a real nightmare trying to catch up with Little Bunting over the last few years. Having not seen one for many years (and having managed to dip more than a few), the news of one actually showing well at Portland yesterday gave me a bit of hope that I might finally put that ghost to rest.

As soon as it was reported again this morning I gave Dave Helliar a ring and by late morning we were watching this incredibly confiding individual. A very smart individual at that. I make no apology for the number of photos below, it was such a pleasure to watch :-)

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

oh, just one more then - Little Bunting, Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

The light was very poor and it was blowing a hooey but a little bit of video was in order too:

Not many people watching it when we were there but sadly there's always one who has to try and get closer than everyone else (no prizes for naming him - I think most local birders will know him). A stark reminder of why I don't really twitch birds anymore as this sort of behaviour really winds me up. 
Why is it the people with the BIG lenses have to get the closest?

If only all photographers were as ethical as Weymouth local John Wall (definitely NOT him above BTW). I hadn't seen him for some considerable time but what a great guy who really cares about not disturbing the birds he's photographing. Check out his Twitter feed @Wawlee. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Black Redstart...

Apologies for the lack of new posts, I’ve had so little time to update this blog recently. I do have several exciting projects in the pipeline for 2019 and beyond though, so posts should pick up again next year.

That aside, I did manage to get a walk in along the seafront at Seaton with Jake just over a week ago and saw several Black Redstarts, including two females by the yacht club and this little beauty on the roof of the bowls club and around the clock tower.

Black Redstart, Seaton

Black Redstart, Seaton Bowls Club
Black Redstart, Seaton Bowls Club
The only other birds  were a pair of Stonechat along the cliff edge above the chine and a hunting Kestrel, but the weather was stunning...guess you can't have everything.

Stonechat, Seaton

Kestrel near the Hideaway cafe, Seaton
I have to say the Nikon P1000 is still producing the goods. The above shots are 'straight out of the camera' RAW images simply converted to Jpeg. They are nice and sharp with good colour rendition - can't wait to try it on my next trip.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Nikon P1000...update

Well, not as much of an update as I would have liked. I've been busy with work recently and I haven't had time to use the camera as much as I'd have liked but in-short, I'm still very impressed with the camera. It's definitely taken the place of my P900. The colour rendition and image sharpness are far superior.

Here are a few shots taken for this post.

Pied Wagtail, Seaton
Taken in shade late in the day.

General landscape scene, Seaton
The sensor handles colour accurately
and image noise isn't a huge issue.

Blackbird, Whitestaunton
Taken from approx 20ft away.

House Sparrow
The image is sharp straight out of the camera.

Stonechat, Seaton

Several people have asked about capturing birds in flight but to be honest I've never been an 'in-flight photographer so I'm not really qualified to answer that. I'm certain it's performance is going to be similar to other bridge cameras in that respect,  i.e. not easy! Unlike DSLRs, the focusing system doesn't respond as rapidly or lock onto fast moving subjects as easily. I've always had better results with bridge cameras by filming birds in such circumstances and then pulling the desired frame from the footage. I will endeavour to try some in-flight shots though and post the results when available.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Gray Catbird...

Last Friday morning was beautiful. One of those sunny October days when the sky is blue and work is the last thing on your mind. A Red-breasted Flycatcher had been showing well at Sidmouth the day before and I was toying with the idea of taking the day off (it was my birthday) and heading that way.

Glancing at Birdguides I noticed the Gray Catbird in Cornwall was still showing, with two reports online before 9 am.

I wasn't bothered about seeing this bird, even though it's only the second ever recorded in the UK. I've seen dozens of them in Canada and I see them there on an annual basis, which takes away the excitement of twitching one (eg. see Canada post from June).

In a sudden and still inexplicable change of plan (and a few phone calls later) Dave Helliar and I were on our way. I have to say, it was the most relaxed twitch I've ever been on. Neither of us desperate to get there particularly quickly as it wasn't a 'new' bird for us.

We arrived 3 hours after setting off and found a reasonably large crowd, split into two groups, watching a large area of willows and brambles. Within 15 minutes, it showed well - perhaps one of the easiest twitches I've been on too!

Hmmm...guess this must be the spot?

Though not particularly close, the bird showed well and occasionally for prolonged periods. These pics were taken on the new Nikon P1000.

Gray Catbird looking remarkably healthy. 

Gray Catbird

The bird was feeding well and calling frequently.
Who knows,  it may well over winter.

Cat in-the-bag, we made the journey back home. Turned out to be a great way to spend my birthday.

Dave had even been in Cornwall the previous week, just before it all kicked off with the Catbird. Although there hadn't been any mega rarities around at the time, he still saw a few good birds...

Pectoral Sandpiper, Drift Reservoir, Cornwall: D. Helliar

Rosy Starling, Roskestal Farm, Porthgwarra: D. Helliar

Wryneck, Faraway Cottage, Polgigga: D. Helliar

Wryneck, Faraway Cottage, Polgigga: D. Helliar

Wryneck, Faraway Cottage, Polgigga: D. Helliar

Friday, 7 September 2018

The Nikon has landed...initial thoughts.

I couldn’t resist pre-ordering Nikon’s new Superzoom camera the COOLPIX P1000 when it was announced back in July this year, and today it arrived!  I’ve been using the older P900 for the last couple of years and various ‘superzoom’ models before it. They suit my needs perfectly allowing me to photograph insects, plants and giving me the required reach to get decent bird photos and video too, all in one compact unit.

So what do you get for your money? Well here are my initial thoughts having only received it about a hour ago. The P1000 knocks it’s more modestly priced older sibling off the top spot as having the largest optical zoom currently available - 125 x compared to the P900’s 83 x offering. That's a 35mm equivalent of  having a 3000 mm lens at the top end of its magnification! This comes with a caveat though...it’s heavier - 3.12 lbs compared to the P900 at 1.98 lbs. Now that will almost certainly put some people off but when you look at what you're getting for that weight, I don't think it's a huge price to pay. Your average 400 mm DSLR lens is going to weigh-in between 3 - 5 lbs on its own and you're getting a lot more reach with this camera. Besides, I often mount the P900 on a tripod as I often use it for filming, so for me the extra weight is no big deal. But how do the P900 and P1000 compare in the real world? Let’s take a look.

P900 at the top of the pic, P1000 below.
It's a monster! But feels surprisingly light and easy to handle.

It has a larger 77mm lens barrel compared to the 67mm P900

Don't be put off by it's size.

Despite being noticeably larger than the P900 it feels very comfortable in the hand. It also feels well built and solid. Anyone familiar with the control layout of the P900 will find a similar layout on the new camera making it easy to pick up and use straight out of the box.

Side by side comparison.

And from the rear...

The following images were all taken using the P900 and P1000 side-by-side with tripod support, auto ISO and auto white balance (I’ve always found the P900 auto white balance to have a slightly yellowish warm tone so keen to compare with the newer camera).

Greenfinch sitting on a tree top about 30 m away, taken on max optical zoom.
P900 left, P1000 on the right

P1000 racked up into digital zoom still gives a reasonable image.
When you think how far away the bird was, that's pretty good.

Another comparison of a wood pigeon on max optical zoom
P900 on the left, P1000 on the right

The P1000, like its predecessor, is clearly being marketed towards wildlife enthusiasts among others but instead of being buried in the main menu (as on the P900) the Birdwatching setting is now conveniently situated on the dial select knob, which is much quicker to access when required.

Fuschia flower on macro setting.
The P1000 reproduces pleasant, accurate colours,
which can of course be tweaked to your own
preferences in the menu.

What I particularly like is the fact that the P1000 shoots in RAW as well as JPEG, allowing you to export uncompressed image files to Photoshop or Lightroom and have more control to tweak and adjust the final photo.  The addition of a ring on the lens barrel also allows you manual control over things like ISO, white balance, EV stops and even manual focus.

Video comparison:



 I think you'll agree the quality, contrast and colour on the P1000 are far superior.

Add to this it's exceptional Dual Detect Optical Vibration Reduction and 4K video capabilities and you have one very special,  portable (though noticeably heavier) camera for birders and nature enthusiasts . I'll certainly be putting mine to the test in the coming months and look forward to sharing the results on this blog.

In short, if you liked the P900, you’re going to LOVE the P1000! Now I just need to find a case to fit it!