Dave Collins Photography: Blog http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog en-us (C) Dave Collins Photography (Dave Collins Photography) Mon, 26 Jun 2017 11:48:00 GMT Mon, 26 Jun 2017 11:48:00 GMT http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/img/s9/v97/u365647858-o270129799-50.jpg Dave Collins Photography: Blog http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog 97 120 Iceland: Part 1 http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/6/iceland-part-1 Introduction

I’ve recently returned from a quite incredible week dedicated to bird photography in Iceland. A place I’ve yearned to go for some time, I decided this year it had to be done, so planning began a few months beforehand. Having read countless trip reports about Iceland I was itching to get there, with a number of target birds on the list.

I was going to be travelling with fellow photographer and good friend Dave Soons, with Phil Gower  a late addition joining the fun. We had originally intended to hire a camper van for more flexibility but with three of us travelling we opted to go the hire care and hotel route. In hindsight I think this was the better choice – proper beds, plenty of charging points for batteries and gadgets and plenty of room to dry soggy clothes.

Our route would see us travel from Keflavik airport east towards Selfoss where we’d spend our first night, with a visit to the Floi Nature Reserve on the first day with another visit the next day. We’d then head north on Sunday, staying firstly in Borgarnes before a pit-stop stay at Blonduos on Monday. From there we’d drive further east to Lake Myvatyn with two nights there given the abundance of birdlife there. We’d then have a long cross-country drive back to Borgarnes for Thursday night, with no accommodation booked on the Friday night to give us the opportunity to wing it. We also had an early flight home on the Saturday morning so the car would be our place of sleep for the night.

Accommodation was booked in advance using Booking.com which allowed us to reserve without paying up front, giving some flexibility should anything drastic happen and for plans to be changed. Car hire was relatively pricey at £330 including insurance but for three of us not too shabby.

I did plenty of research beforehand which proved very useful but some of our better days were actually those where we simply walked and explored – probably more a testament to how bird-rich the country is more than anything else and one of the reasons I’ll be going back! I'll cover the trip in a few posts, so here goes with the first part...

Day 1

An early start saw us travel to Birmingham airport bursting with excitement. We talked about our top five targets though this was so tough to call. Check-in was very smooth as was the flight with IcelandAir to Keflavik. Very comfortable and superb service throughout. We arrived in good weather and were quickly packing suitcases into our hire car – a Skoda Octavia estate. Having not driven abroad before it took a while to get the hang of things but we were soon almost the only car on the road south to Grundavik. About 20 minutes into the drive we saw a police roadblock and it turned out to be a breath test station. I’ve never been stopped by the police in all my years of driving but a quick blow into the breathalyser and all was good and on we went, in full-on birding mode. It didn’t take us long to get off the mark with birds seen en-route to Selfoss including our first Ptarmigan, Golden Plovers, a brilliant roadside Artcic Tern colony and Ringed Plovers as well as a few Oystercatchers. Driving through the outskirts of Selfoss towards the town we saw a stunning Great-Northen Diver in a small roadside pool but sadly there was nowhere safe to stop so we drove on. We also started seeing what would be the first of many Redshanks perched on roadside posts along with a few Snipe too. We found our hotel easily enough and checked in. By now the weather wasn’t that great so we freshened up and opted to go for food before driving to Floi to see what we could find. The reserve was only a 20 minute drive away and the main part is reached via a long gravel track which turned out to be a productive place with plenty of Redshanks on posts, a few Snipe and a smattering of Meadow Pipits. Redwings were constantly zipping past if not perched in nearby bushes singing and we also saw numerous Black-tailed Godwits. A real treat though was a hunting Short-eared Owl. It didn’t hang around for long before drifting off high.

RedshankRedshank

We took our time down the track, eager to make the most of the early opportunity to get some images onto our memory cards but eventually we pulled into the empty car park. The reserve has one hide with a path that takes visitors out onto the marshland for a closer view of the many pools that cover the area. We checked out the hide first, spotting a handful of Red-throated Divers including one very close sat on a nest. We were soon watching our first Red-necked Pharlaropes of the trip. Tiny birds but full of personality but more about them later. The weather wasn't ideal with light rain though the light wasn't too bad so we chose to go for a little walk around the marsh areas and see what was on the pools. Our first stop was the Red-throated Diver that we'd seen from the hide. We kept a sensible distance away to get a few shots before quickly moving on to avoid disturbing this beautiful bird. In summer plumage they are awesome looking things!!

Red-throated DiverRed-throated Diver

Our lenses were soon being trained on the many Red-necked Phalaropes that were feeding close in along the margins of the pools. It really is true what is said about these small waders being fearless. In fact, they would often go out of their way to come and investigate the strange shapes that we were. This made photography a bit of a race against time as they were extremely spritely and would be within the minimal focal range almost before you'd had a chance to find them through the viewfinder. Great fun! 

Red-necked PharlaropeRed-necked Pharlarope

Whilst watching the phalaropes and divers we were fortunate to also see a Short-eared Owl being seen off distantly by the usual horde of Redshanks and Godwits, with an Arctic Skua also making a low pass though I was too slow and missed the shot. Arctic Terns and the occassional Dunlin made up the supporting cast with Whooper Swans also scattered in the distance. A super place and we didn't really want to leave but called it a day at around 10pm for a good night's sleep in preparation for our morning visit. The drive back saw more of the same along the gravel track with plenty of birds perched on posts including a smart Whimbrel but the light by now had gone a little weird so we made a quicker exit and were soon going through our first day's images back at the hotel. I think we were all asleep within seconds of our heads hitting pillows!

Day 2

Alarms were pinging at 6am and a quick look outside left a lot to be desired. It was dull, grey and piddling down. Exactly what we didn't want. We didn't spend too much time moaning though as opted to head out as soon as we were ready, with the Floi Nature Reserve first on the list before we headed north-west to Borgarnes. We took a slow drive along the track as we had done the day before, with Redshanks, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwits in abundance. 

RedshankRedshank

Once parked up we had a quick scan before again setting off to check out the many pools. A few divers present along with the usual waders, including a very confiding Dunlin which we were confident must've been nesting close-by given it's reluctance to move too far from a certain area. It was slightly brighter now with the rain having eased though there were occasional heavier spells whilst we were walking around. We found another nesting Red-throated Diver on our return to the car and it was very close indeed to the main path. It must've been absent when we went the opposite direction. We were planning on moving past it but it left the nest and entered the adjacent pool relatively closely so we got a few pics as it made it's way out of range.

Red-throated DiverRed-throated Diver I felt slightly disappointed by our visits to Floi - not for the lack of birds but the pretty poor light we'd experienced. Whilst I got some pleasing images I couldn't help but feel we'd missed out. Still, nearly a whole week to go so no reason to complain just yet. Once back to the car we reviewed our results before heading up to Borgarnes - approximately 2 hours away. The drive there was again very smooth with more spectacular scenery to keep us oohing and aahing, though there weren't any stand-out birding moments. We arrived at our accommodation at just gone 4pm and first impressions were really good with us to be staying in our own little lodge with a spectacular view of snow-capped mountains one side, and undisturbed countryside to the other. We had a quick coffee before heading back to Borgarnes for some supplies. Unfortunately we'd dawdled for too long and missed the supermarkets, forgetting it was a Sunday! We therefore had to make do with a nearby convenience store and were limited in what we could get but it would do us for now. We got back to the lodge and discussed plans for the evening, distracted by the constant drumming of Snipe overhead. We also noticed a Snipe perched on a rock no more than 10 metres from our front door. This was a sign of things to come and we agreed we may as well as explore our immediate surroundings first and see what was about. When we were finally ready, the light was brilliant so we began with a walk along a bridletrack just metres from the lodge. This took us straight to a female Golden Plover which moved off from near the track, dragging a wing and calling in the process. Another nesting bird but we didn't look for the nest, instead carrying on and leaving it to return in peace. A Ptarmigan was heard calling as were many Golden Plovers - both very encouraging signs as these were two species I really wanted to get photos of. It didn't take us long to find a smart male Golden Plover using a rocky outcrop to call.

Golden PloverGolden Plover

I managed a few images before we split up to see what else we could find. The habitat was a mix of low scrub with a few trees and rocky outcrops covered in mosses lining each side of the track. I was getting the feeling that this place could be a gold mine and looking back, the evening would be one of the highlights of the week. I firstly heard a Ptarmigan calling at what sounded very close range so was very careful with my movements. I had the sun to my back and was behind one of the main rocky areas so made a very slow and careful climb towards the top. I had some good cover behind some boulders so slowly moved my lens over one of them before easing up to get behind my camera see what was around. Right in front of me was a cracking male Ptarmigan. It was immediately alert so I froze. It seemed to relax so I took the chance and got my eye to the viewfinder. I could just about fit the bird into the frame and once composed took a few shots. This again alerted the Ptarmigan and this time it decided to leave, flying off and calling before dropping out of sight behind some trees into the scrubby area. A superb bird and thankfully some decent photos too!

PtarmiganPtarmigan PtarmiganPtarmigan I walked back down to the track and continued looking for my next subject, drawn to a more substantial area of rocks by a calling Golden Plover. Again, I was very careful in my movements before finally locating the bird which was on a fine mossy rock - I do love a good perch! There was however very little cover so the binoculars came off and I began a very slow belly crawl, taking care not to make any sudden moves, whilst also trying not to hit any rocks with my camera and lens. I was soon within suitable shooting distance and had found some pretty handy cover afterall so began shooting. There were actually two birds - a male and a female and I managed to spend a very productive ten minutes with them, though the male was much more co-operative.

Golden PloverGolden Plover By now, Phil and Dave had found me so I moved back from where I was and waved them over for them to get some shots which they did so it was smiles all round. I had a quick look through the images on the back of  my camera and things looked good. By now we'd spent a good few hours in a relatively small area but as predicted, it was teeming with birds and there were plenty of photo opportunities. Redshank, Snipe and Black-tailed Godwits were calling all around as was the occasional Ptarmigan and Whimbrel. We'd accidentally found a real gem of a location. Walking back towards the lodge with the sun-setting I heard another nearby Plover and told the guys I fancied another crack so I left them to carry on before another spell of belly crawling. I soon found a female bird and she was rooted to her current spot, oblivious to my presence. The light was incredible and I got some shots which I'm really pleased with. It was a brilliant moment with a stunning view of the sun setting on snowy mountain peaks behind a lovely subject. I couldn't help but reflect on how content I was at this moment.

Golden PloverGolden Plover

Golden PloverGolden Plover Golden PloverGolden Plover

I reluctantly left the Golden Plover to carry on it's sunset calling and headed back to the lodge to meet up with Phil and Dave. I actually beat them back thanks to a cheeky little shortcut and we were soon chatting about what a magical spot we'd found ourselves in. To add to the moment, a Short-eared Owl drifted past in the distance. Iceland had won us over. I was absolutely buzzing when I got into bed although it would turn into a very short night's sleep....

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Borgarnes Dave Collins Photography Floi Nature Reserve Golden Plover Iceland Nature Ptarmigan Red-throated Diver Redshank Selfoss Snipe Trip Report Wildlife Wildlife Photography http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/6/iceland-part-1 Mon, 26 Jun 2017 11:47:27 GMT
Fritillaries & Blues http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/5/fritillaries-blues Since my last post I've been out a number of times looking for butterflies and the good run of luck I've been on has continued, much to my delight. After the brilliant time I had with the Pearl-bordered Fritiallaries last time out I just had to go back for more and since then I've also been spending quite a bit of time on Rodborough Common with some great butterflies seen and photographed on most visits, which I'll cover in this post.

Starting with the Pearl-bordered Fritillary colony in Cirencester Park, I had a morning off work a few weeks ago and the weather forecast was supposed to be overcast but relatively still. Perfect conditions for looking for and hopefully finding roosting butterflies. As I've said before these are my preferred conditions for photography for a number of reasons:

  • The butterflies are normally dormant and roosting, meaning you can get nice and close with less risk of them flying off.
  • Lighting is much better with an overcast sky (not thick cloud), with light cloud perfect as it acts as a natural diffuser. 
  • Wind is the macro photographer's nemesis. Just the slightest movement can result in a ruined image, even more so when using an extremely narrow depth of field.

Unfortunately, the forecast was, typically, wrong. I woke up to a cloudless sky and the breeze felt a lot stronger than expected. Nevertheless, I had nothing else to do so made my way over to Oakley Wood, arriving at bang on 8am when the park opens to the public. I made my way into the favoured compartment and using the knowledge acquired during my last visit, found three roosting fritillaries almost immediately in the same area. One was very low down, almost on the ground, with the two others on young beech tree. One was perched very nicely on a bud and was at a convenient height.

Pearl-borderd FritillaryPearl-borderd Fritillary

I later found one resting on a fern frond. Lighting by now was a bit of a struggle with lots of shadows to contend with but a passing cloud helped soften things somewhat.

Pearl-borderd FritillaryPearl-borderd Fritillary

It wasn't long before the butterflies were feeling the heat and actively moving around the compartment. Shooting these confident fliers would be a lot harder now so I made the most of the time and tried to count as many as possible. I couldn't confidently give a number but they were without doubt into double figures, with groups of three or four often seen wrestling over patches of bugle. What was impressive was just how quickly they disappeared when the sun was obscured. During one such moment I found one resting on a piece of bracken. I opted for something a bit different and went for a back-lit shot, hoping the fritillary would stay still until the sun re-emerged as the background was dense foliage meaning a potentially pure black background. The image I had in mind came to fruition.

Pearl-borderd FritillaryPearl-borderd Fritillary

By now it was time to head home for work. No bad thing as I was getting very warm and had enjoyed a fine few hours in a wonderful woodland setting. I was already hoping the forecast for the weekend would be favourable as I find Pearl-bordered Fritillaries really addictive and wanted even more! Thankfully the Saturday morning was just as I'd hoped and I began my search full of confidence. As is often the case I was brought back down to earth with a bump and after 40 minutes of searching with not a butterfly in sight I was beginning to worry. The sun then broke through and immediately three fritillaries were seen gliding about. The more I explored the more I saw and I again easily hit double figures. I noticed a thick looking bank of cloud rolling towards me and was both pleased as it would put the butterflies down but also concerned as it looked quite threatening. As soon as it arrived the butterflies did their usual disappearing trick. I had however seen a couple go to roost and spent some time photographing these in amongst a few light rain showers, with the bluebell ones some of my favourites so far this year.

Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary Pearl-borderd FritillaryPearl-borderd Fritillary

A stunning butterfly species which will always be one I can't wait to find each year. These may be the last I see this year as they're now well into their season and I'm planning on focussing my attention towards a few species I've yet to photograph properly - the Adonis Blue and the Small Blue - both of which have colonies very close to home

This brings me onto the second part of this post, which covers numerous visits to Rodborough Common. This super place is only about 5 minutes by car from where I live so is super convenient and also home to a range of butterfly species. A few recent visits have resulted in me seeing Common, Small and Adonis Blues, Brown Argus, along with a single Painted Lady, plenty of Small Heaths and Dingy Skippers. Sadly no Dukes seen over the last week or so but I've not looked too hard for these. The main areas that I've found to be best are slopes which are circled below:

I went for a recon walk on Friday evening with Dad to see if we could get an idea for the best spots for Adonis Blue. It didn't take us too long to start finding them but with the sun still high and conditions very warm, they were very flighty but unmistakable when on the wing. Such stunningly blue wings! I thought one of the butterflies found roosting looked a bit dark but before I could get close enough it zoomed off. An intriguing one for sure and something I would keep my eyes on. I went back again on Saturday evening, again for recon as the forecast for Sunday looked superb for an early morning with very little wind - a bit of a rarity for the common which can be very exposed! Disappointingly I found very few butterflies, perhaps due to the strength of the wind earlier in the day but the one I did find was something a bit special. I'm pretty sure it was the oddity I briefly saw the night before and on closer inspection it appeared to be a female Adonis Blue aberration. I just hoped it would be in the same place in the morning!!

A 5am alarm call didn't happen. No - I didn't sleep in - I was actually wide awake before! The dawn chorus has woken me at 4:30am and it seemed to be extra loud today. I decided to get out of bed whilst I was still so awake and after an extra large coffee and some faffing about I made the short drive to the common and headed straight for the location of the aberration. It was still there. Thank goodness!! I wasted no time in getting some shots before leaving it be looking for other subjects. It really was a cracking little thing and a nice treat.

Adonis Blue ab. KrodeliAdonis Blue ab. Krodeli Adonis Blue ab. KrodeliAdonis Blue ab. Krodeli I soon stumbled upon and nearly stood on, a Small Blue. This is a butterfly I've struggled to get photos of in the past so I was again thankful that the early morning had paid dividends as this tiny little thing stayed completely still as I set-up and took some photos.

Small BlueSmall Blue

I found quite a few Common Blues and more Brown Argus's over the next hour or so but they were quite low in the grasses so I left them be and continued my search for a roosting Adonis. It wasn't to be and by now the sun had started to come out with the temperature lifting rather quickly. From a good 40 yards or so I could see something blue in the distance and before I found it in my bins I knew what it was - a gem of a male Adonis. I dropped my kit, other than my camera and made my way over to it. Once close I was extremely careful not to get between the sun and the butterfly as my shadow would mean curtains for any shots. I tried a few different angles, trying to get as much of the butterfly as possible in focus and got some pleasing results. The blue really is something else and really stands out. A cracking butterfly!

Adonis BlueAdonis Blue Adonis BlueAdonis Blue Adonis BlueAdonis Blue

Having had a seriously good few hours it was time for some much deserved breakfast and more coffee. By 10am I was back home with a memory card full of images to sort. Always a great feeling to have with a whole day ahead. I'll be back up for more of the same many more times before the butterfly season is done but my attention is now very much turning back to birds as I'm off to Iceland for the first week in June and absolutely cannot wait. I might even do a post or two about it when I get back...

 

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(Dave Collins Photography) Adonis Blue Butterflies Butterfly Photography Cirencester Park Gloucestershire Macro Pearl-bordered Fritillary Rodborough Common http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/5/fritillaries-blues Mon, 29 May 2017 15:01:56 GMT
Pearl-bordered Fritillaries http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/5/pearl-bordered-fritillaries With the first Pearl-bordered Fritillaries reported locally in Cirencester Park last week and a favourable forecast for the weekend, plans were made to go in search of one of my favourite UK butterfly species on Saturday morning. The forecast was for a slight breeze and overcast conditions. The former a pain but the latter ideal as it would hopefully mean the butterflies wouldn't be too active. In previous years I've always concentrated my efforts at a particular compartment in Hailey Wood although last year was extremely disappointing. This year access to that area is now much more restricted due to forestry work so I was making use of new intel and hoping things would be better in nearby Oakley Wood.

Saturday morning saw dad and me arrive on site under the forecast clouds with the breeze not too bad so we set off and were searching the main compartment within a few minutes. Initially I thought we must be in the wrong place as the scrub was fairly dense and there were very few patches of bugle, the main food plant of the fritillaries. The compartment slowly began to thin out a bit and I was scanning both low down in the grasses and scrub and higher up in the scattered trees. It must've been half an hour before I found the first fritillary roosting above head height in a young beech tree. I then found another in a nearby tree before we found a third in the same tree and how we hadn't seen it first time round I don't know as it really did look so obvious! These were all a little too high for photos - a step ladder would've been handy.

Then one of those really weird flukey moments happened. I'd put my tripod down to give my arm a rest and when I went to pick it up a fresh fritillary was sat on some grass right next to it. I'm not sure how I'd missed this one either. It was very docile so I popped it on a nearby bluebell and got a few shots before it took flight and did a mini circuit of the glade we were in.

Pearl-borderd FritillaryPearl-borderd Fritillary It then settled on a dried stem and began climbing up it with its wings open. I quickly removed my camera from the tripod and took some hand held shots as it made it's way upwards. My favourite of these is below. The underwing of this species what I just cannot get enough of. Stunning things!

Pearl-borderd FritillaryPearl-borderd Fritillary Once at the top of the stem it again took flight before landing on another stem of the same sort, repeating the routine but this time it closed its wings and seemed to settle down. I was able to get the tripod set-up and opted to use my shutter release cable and live view with a low ISO to minimise noise, whilst keeping an eye on the shutter speed to make sure any movement didn't result in a blurred image. In this situation I take a few shots, check the whole butterfly is in focus and make any positional adjustments as and when required. With an extremely narrow depth of field (to give a really creamy bokeh) it's very easy to find part of the butterfly out of focus which can spoil a shot and mean missing some detail. I'm probably too fussy with these things in all honesty! I was absolutely chuffed with the image below as it's really captured the details and colours of the butterfly whilst isolating it from the background.

Pearl-borderd FritillaryPearl-borderd Fritillary

With shots in the bag and the temperature rising, the butterflies became a little more active so we moved into another area of the compartment to see if we could find some more. The sun then started to break through and at that moment I found another pearl-bordered fritillary basking on a young beech tree with its wings open. The orange really stood out against the greens of the fresh leaves. This particular butterfly then took flight and as we watched it glide around we noticed more and more on the wing. We must've counted well into double figures but it was impossible to get an accurate count as they were quite literally all around us, often in twos and threes. 

After a good few hours in Oakley Wood we headed back towards home via Rodborough Common as I wanted to show Dad where I'd been seeing the resident duke of burgundy colony. It didn't take long at all for us to find them, with three found almost immediately in the usual spot. We sat down for a coffee and some biscuits and watched three turn into at least six when the sun came out, with two seemingly sparring / displaying, spiralling high together before dropping back down. We snaked along the valley then up and along some more in the hope of other species and in amongst plenty of dingy skippers Dad spotted an awesome grounded Adonis Blue. It was an absolute gem but was soon off and at great speed in the wind so I decided to resist chasing it. A few metres further along the track we stumbled upon what can best be described as a butterfly royal rumble with a common blue, a dingy skipper and a duke of burgundy taking it in turns to see the others off then they invaded the others' personal space. Our final sighting was a female kestrel hovering and then dropping out of view before popping back up with a kill. A very nice way to finish a fantastic day, and all this within 10 miles of home. 

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(Dave Collins Photography) http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/5/pearl-bordered-fritillaries Sun, 14 May 2017 19:49:13 GMT
Butterfly Fortunes http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/butterfly-fortunes The butterfly season has finally begun and so far it would seem that fortune is favouring me. Last year was very slow going, especially during the early part of the season but this year I'm off to a flier with some fantastic moments already under my belt. I had really been hoping to find more Orange-tips this year and whilst I found a few last year, my timing was far too late. With locations ideas in mind I've found a really encouraging number of these early emergers and have been lucky to find them in some wonderful light. Some very early mornings have paid off and below are a few of my favourite images from the last couple of weeks.

Orange-tipOrange-tip Orange-tipOrange-tip Orange-tipOrange-tip Orange-tipOrange-tip Whilst looking for Orange-tips one evening I had a chance encounter that really put a smile on my face. I happened on an extremely smart Green-veined White. This is a species I'd never found before so I was extremely careful not to disturb this little gem when setting up. Fortunately it was a very cool overcast evening so the butterfly was as docile as they come.

Green-veined WhiteGreen-veined White Green-veined WhiteGreen-veined White The following weekend saw me up at the crack of dawn back to where I'd found the previous butterflies and it wasn't long before I found both Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites roosting, the latter in some very obliging positions although getting a clean background meant a very uncomfortable position in order to avoid damaging nearby flowers. It was an extremely chilly morning with frost in the most sheltered corners. The light however was what really stood out. The sunrise was quite spectacular and it turned the meadow I was in to gold. I wasted no time in getting as many images as I could as this was not an opportunity to waste.

Green-veined WhiteGreen-veined White Green-veined WhiteGreen-veined White My most recent butterfly hunt took me to Rodborough Common. Only a five minute drive from home, I decided to have a look for the Duke of Burgundy, having heard a few had been seen elsewhere in the South of England. I didn't have my camera gear so it was very much 'recon only' and given how fresh it felt, I wasn't at all confident. However, I was wrong and during a sunny spell I found a single male on the wing in the usual spot. My tactic of sitting down to watch and wait for movement worked. Certainly something I'd recommend. Earlier this week I kept an eye on the forecast and Thursday after work looked promising with relatively low temperatures and very little breeze. I was again not feeling too confident given how small these butterflies are and had the memory of last year in mind when I spent countless hours searching without success. Luck was again with me though and within minutes I found a cracking male at almost eye-level perched on a bud! I'd been looking low in the grass and only stood up to get my footing on the steep slope, otherwise I may very well have missed it. I then found another male on the side of a cowslip before finding a female. She was a little more active though and flew from an Ash leaf before I could get a decent shot. No complaints though as I'd already had more success than ever before and am really pleased with the images I got.

Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy really is a cracking little butterfly and I hope I've done them justice. The only problem is I have well and truly got the butterfly bug!

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(Dave Collins Photography) http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/butterfly-fortunes Sun, 30 Apr 2017 19:14:05 GMT
Spring Stunner http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/spring-stunner I've recently been bemoaning the poor run I feel I've been on when it comes to bird photography. A trip to Dorset this weekend for Dartford Warblers was a success in that we saw plenty (and I also saw my first ever Firecrest) but we came home pretty much empty handed when it came to photos. I also took a walk to see the local Dippers this weekend. Again, a success in that I saw them but getting a photo was not to be. Today I was after a shot of a Wheatear. They'd been trickling in over the last week or so with local sightings increasing. I had two locations in mind and headed to a local common first. I parked the car, got my bins out and the first thing I saw....yes...a Wheatear! Well, two actually. Both females. Could I get within shooting range though? Nope. They were off in a flash and I only relocated one of them and it was again off very quickly. Nevermind. So I tried the many Skylarks. Again, no joy. It then started to rain. It was now that I had the nagging feeling that today was going to be another one of those days and that I should've stayed at home tucked up in the comfort of my nice, warm, cosy bed. Perseverance is the key in this game though so I decided to carry on with my plan and head to my next chosen location - Blakehill Farm in Wiltshire. There'd been a good number of sightings over the last few days so I was pretty confident of seeing a Wheatear or two here but getting a photo...well...you've got to be in it to win it.

After parking the car I had a quick coffee and a bite to eat before walking along the main track up the hill before following it around towards the main plateau. I stopped every ten yards or so to scan the fence posts but nothing until the track started descending. I picked out a female Wheatear next to two Linnets and then a fairly drab looking male. The next ten minutes saw me slowly walking down the track testing the comfort zones of the two birds I'd found. One was fairly confiding and I got some ok shots but then noticed a stunning male in full breeding plumage. This was what I'd hoped for so it was a case of again being very patient and approaching the bird in a non-threatening manner. It was fairly flighty to start with but eventually relaxed a little. I took a few shots, moved forward a few paces, took a few more shots and so-on. After a while I was stood with this stonking bird no more than a few metres away. At one point it moved towards me and I was actually too close to be able to focus! It popped back onto the post it had come from and allowed me to fire off plenty of frame-filling shots. The poor run had suddenly turned into one of those massive highs that make the pain and frustration worthwhile. Suffice to say, I came home a very happy boy! 

WheatearWheatear

WheatearWheatear WheatearWheatear WheatearWheatear

 

 

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(Dave Collins Photography) http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/spring-stunner Mon, 17 Apr 2017 21:42:08 GMT
Catching Up http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/catching-up It's been way too long since my last post so this is a catch-up of the last few months. As I touched on back in January, personal circumstances have resulted in some big changes including me moving home but my photography has kept me relatively sane and I've had a few good trips, including a visit to the Forest of Dean for the beastly Hawfinches as well as the Avon Gorge for the resident Peregrine Falcons. I have also finally taken the plunge and upgraded my 300mm F2.8 lens to a 500mm F4. A big difference and still relatively early days but so far so good! The highlight though was finally being published in the national press. More on that later.

So, where to start? Well, my feeding station has been doing well and with spring in the air I spent some time with some obliging blue tits in amongst the blossom and got some pleasing results after a bit of work, my favourite couple of shots below:

Blue TitBlue Tit Blue TitBlue Tit A bit further afield, a few very early mornings were required to get to the Forest of Dean before the rush and these paid dividends with some incredibly close views of the Hawfinches that feed at Parkend. Despite an incredible lack of common sense or field craft from many birders and photographers, I did get a few keepers. I must say though that the sheer stupidity of many visitors to this hot spot became infuriating and on both occasions I left earlier than planned for fear of blowing my top. I'm normally a very calm person and it takes something special to rile me. Despite polite words with a few people things just didn't get better. A shame as it ruins things for all. Anyway, here's a magnificent female Hawfinch taken during a quiet moment...

HawfinchHawfinch The Peregrine Falcons at Avon Gorge are a popular attraction during March and April as they begin displaying / courting and I recently made a visit with good friend Dave Soons. We were joined by Pete Blanchard and spent a good 5 or 6 hours with only fleeting views of our targets, soon bemoaning what a poor day we were having. During this time a few people came and went and the temptation to follow suit was growing until we were treated to some awesome displays with the birds zooming past no more than 10 - 15 feet away at eye level. At that range it's pretty much impossible to get a photo so we just took it in and enjoyed the spectacle. It was a challenging session with the birds often coming head-on towards us and it took a change in settings to really get going (thanks Pete) and the D500 did a fine job in locking on and tracking the raptors as they cruised through the gorge. In the end we had an amazing day and will definitely be returning once the chicks have fledged in June.

Peregrine FalconPeregrine Falcon Peregrine FalconPeregrine Falcon Peregrine FalconPeregrine Falcon Back in February I was contacted by a press agency who thought a few of my images would go down well with the press and they weren't wrong. On Monday 20th March I got an email to let me know that both the Daily Telegraph and the Mail Online had used a number of images. Happy days!

Finally, and most recently, I've been lured by irresistible temptation of the first butterflies of year, specifically Orange-tips which have emerged during the recent warm weather. My first search was during a cool and overcast evening and despite a good few hours of looking I came home without finding any. Always a disappointment but it makes the next time even more appealing and builds the anticipation. A few days later I met up with dad and we went off in hunt of these small butterflies. It was again overcast and very cool indeed, with a fresh breeze blowing which would make photography more challenging. Almost immediately we found a roosting male on a blackthorn twig. Incidentally, this was in a very small sheltered area where I found a number roosting together last year. We then moved onto a couple of fields which were absolutely full of cuckoo flowers (one of the Orange-tip's main food plants). We spent a lot of time scanning the flowerheads but no joy. We then moved to an adjacent field and within a few minutes of looking we found a couple of males roosting quite close to a hedge. This meant they were sheltered from the breeze so I was able to get a number of images. It was great to find these butterflies as they've been a bogey species for me in previous years. I'm hoping they'll remain close-by for another session soon, so watch this space!

Orange-tipOrange-tip Orange-tipOrange-tip Orange-tipOrange-tip

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(Dave Collins Photography) Avon Gorge Butterfies Forest of Dean Hawfinch Orange-tip Parkend Peregrine Falcon Spring http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/catching-up Fri, 14 Apr 2017 17:48:36 GMT
Still Waiting http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/1/still-waiting It's been a while since my last update so a very belated Happy New Year! I haven't had the greatest few months personally with a rather unexpected turn of events meaning my photography has taken a bit of a back seat whilst things settle down. I won't dwell on that though and wanted to share a few photos from the limited time I have had out and about. 

Most of my time outdoors has been spent making sure the feeding station has been stocked up, especially given the recent cold snaps we've had. I have taken the camera with me a few times and the usual suspects have been regular visitors. The jays are still proving a real challenge though and I was so very close to the shot I've been after last weekend but alas it wasn't too be. I did however get a few shots which I'm quite pleased with, albeit with the jays a little closer than anticipated.

JayJay JayJay   JayJay So, I'm still waiting for the shot I'm after and I don't plan on giving up just yet. If only jays were as obliging as the great-spotted woodpeckers...

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker

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(Dave Collins Photography) Feeding Station Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay Woodland Birds http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/1/still-waiting Thu, 26 Jan 2017 20:48:16 GMT
Feeding Station Update http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/11/feeding-station-update Since my last post I've managed to spend another couple of days staking out the feeding station and am delighted to say that I've got some really pleasing results. The jays have been a bit more frequent (albeit still extremely shy) and the other birds are getting a lot more used to me being about. I even had a woodpecker come down whilst I was outside adjusting the hide. It was no more than eight feet away, took a look at me, and proceeded to peck away on the peanut feeder.

Below are a few of the jay images I've managed. Better, but still not the shot I really want. On the plus side, I can still relish in the anticipation of the next visit :)

JayJay JayJay JayJay

I've figured out the route the jays seem to take before arriving at the food provided and more often than not they announce their presence with a typical harsh scream or a more muted and nervous sounded bubbling. I had Monday off work and set up a new perch adjacent to the bird table and it didn't take long before a jay alighted on it, however it was off almost immediately. The perch may have been a little unstable, or I may have been spotted. Either way, this happened four more times during the day so I removed the perch for the time being and concentrated on the ones already in place. Sadly, no more visits after this so no more opportunities.

Other visitors have included the great spotted woodpeckers and there are now at least three different birds coming in to feed. My suspicion is a pair and potentially one of their offspring. The adult male and female will tolerate each other but the third bird is seen off very quickly. The male is also much more confident and is totally at ease with the sound of the camera shutter firing and me moving about. I'm enjoying getting to know the quirks of these birds and am tempted to name them. Any suggestions are welcome!

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker

The nuthatches are also very regular now and are at times very aggressive. This is behaviour I've seen many times before from these feisty little acrobats and it's very entertaining watching them chase after other species as they come in to grab some food. When they're not harassing other birds, they do take the odd moment to hang out. Classic nuthatch pose!

During my time in the hide on Monday, there was a very heavy downpour. The hide was perfectly dry though and I made the most of the opportunity and went for something with a wider angle to capture the conditions. A nuthatch posed perfectly and I opted to use quite a lot of negative space to show the rainy conditions. I'm really pleased with the image below and it proves that being out in all weathers can offer some really dynamic photographic opportunities.

NuthatchNuthatch

A slightly unexpected visitor to the bird table was a cock pheasant. As I mentioned in my last post, a group of these birds has been coming and going and whilst I was waiting for a jay to arrive in my viewfinder I was taken aback by a sudden flash of colour. I couldn't fit much of the bird in frame so opted for a head shot. The lighting was ideal and it really helped emphasise the stunning plumage that these birds possess.

I'll be spending more time in the hide over the coming weekend and will again be focussing my efforts on the jays. The weather forecast between now and then includes some potentially strong winds so it will be interesting to see how that impacts the leaf-fall both in terms of lighting from behind but also the bokeh behind the birds I'll be shooting. Time will tell. I just hope the jays are still up for some free food!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Hide Bird Photography Birds Feeding Station Jay Jays Nuthatch Woodland Birds Woodpecker http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/11/feeding-station-update Thu, 17 Nov 2016 21:41:55 GMT
Autumnal Fires http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/11/autumnal-fires With bonfire night having recently passed I thought it fitting to share some new images with their own fiery element. This weekend saw me spend a decent amount of time at my recently set up feeding station. My last visit was under leaden skies so it was nice to spend a few hours in the hide in much brighter conditions.

Both Saturday and Sunday were chilly but clear so I had some very bright sunshine to contend with. The downside of this meant the feeders and perches were in shadow for long spells due to a mighty oak behind the hide that is still in leaf. The plus side meant the oaks behind the perches were a blazing mesh of yellows and oranges giving a really autumnal feel to things. The colours this year seem a lot more vivid!

During Saturday, the usual suspects dropped in and the makeshift bird table was very popular with the coal tits and nuthatches though the former were always in and out at hyper-speed and rarely stayed still.

Coal TitCoal Tit The woodpeckers were fairly frequent visitors as were a party of cock pheasants. The highlight though was the first jay that came down three times on Saturday. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, it was extremely timid and was off in a flash at the slightest sign of movement so I came home with no images but a real sense of hope, bouyed by the fact that the jay knew there was food present and would likely be back. 

I returned for more on Sunday morning and arrived to a superb winter scene with a heavy frost coating the grass and fallen leaves underfoot. It wasn't long before my fingers were feeling the pinch of the freezing air but I was soon warmed up after rearranging some perches and topping up the feeders. I settled into the hide with a nice hot coffee and began my wait to see what would come in. It didn't take long for a male great spotted woodpecker to appear though it unusually went straight onto the peanut feeder rather than landing on a nearby perch first, as it has been doing. A short while later, I noticed movement to the left and at first glance though it was a pheasant in the frosty grass. I did a rapid double take when my brain clicked into gear and I realised it was a stunning fox! It didn't twig that I was nearby but by the time I had the fox in my viewfinder it had changed direction and was heading away from me, showing a beautiful, big, bushy tail. Thankfully it stopped and turned to allow a few profile shots. A magnificent specimen and it soon headed into the woods, seemingly without a care in the world.

FoxFox

Another woodpecker later flew in, posing very nicely on the top of a perch with the background absolutely glowing. The shadow wasn't ideal but was just about manageable with a bit of post-processing.

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker

I then had the moment I was really hoping for and that was the much anticipated visit of a jay. After Saturday's frustrations, I decided to stay completely still and not even try and get a photo. This allowed the jay to have a good look at the food on offer and for me to enjoy having such a stunning bird at close quarters. The jay had a bit of seed and a few nuts from the bird table before moving onto the other perches and even trying to pose woodpecker-style on a birch trunk I'd put in place. Amazing to see! It then dropped to the floor for a quick forage before disappearing. A fab few moments and it showed that the jay was getting more comfortable. I'm confident this could be a great subject over the winter period and was buzzing at the prospect!

The next hour or so saw more woodpecker activity, plenty of tits, a few more pheasants and very frequent raids by the nuthatches. I have such a big soft spot for these charming woodland birds that I cannot resist taking photos of them. I was therefore very pleased when one landed on my much favoured birch log and posed perfectly for a split second. Thankfully the D500's ten frames per second gave me the one image I wanted. I doubt I'd have got this with the four frames a second that my D800 offers. A split second pose captured for eternity.

NuthatchNuthatch

A little while later I noticed a jay land in the hedge just to the right of the hedge. Perfect! For once I had a heads-up that I might have a chance of getting set-up before the jay was where I wanted it. I'd been amazed at just how quiet they'd been when coming in. The woodpeckers can be heard swooping in but I'd heard nothing with the previous jay visits. Stealth mode in full effect! Anyway, it was only a minute or so before my viewfinder was full of jay! Wow! What a beauty! I had to restrain my trigger finger and let the jay start feeding for a bit before trying to get a shot. I had my teleconverter on so couldn't actually fit the whole bird in a shot so I picked a moment when the jay was looking over it's shoulder to avoid a branch that was in the background and fired off a single frame to get a head shot. No reaction. Phew! I did this a few more times before stopping and just watching. Confidence of this bird was definitely increasing, assuming it was the same bird. It filled its crop before flying right at me and landing in the oak tree above/behind the hide. What a treat.

JayJay

I was soon out of time so packed up and headed home to get ready for a Sunday lunch at the folks'. I'd had a fantastic weekend at the feeding station and am delighted with how things have gone so far. It's incredibly satisfying to have set everything up from scratch and to start getting results. I've still got a few things to tweak but I'm optimistic that the jays will prove a worthy subject as they are one of my biggest bogey birds when it comes to photography. They are very intelligent but wary birds so I'm trying not to get too excited but I'm already desperate to get back behind the camera and get one of these magnificent corvids in my viewfinder. With winter fast approaching and the trees losing an increasing amount of leaves, the scene will be ever-changing but no doubt beautiful. Is snow too much to ask for as well?!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Autumn Bird feeding station Feeding station Jay Nuthatch Woodland Birds http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/11/autumnal-fires Mon, 07 Nov 2016 21:56:51 GMT
My Very Own Bird Feeding Station http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/10/my-very-own-bird-feeding-station For a very long time I've wanted to set-up my own bird feeding station. Sounds straightforward enough, but not having a garden has meant it's been pretty tricky to find somewhere suitable. Thankfully, I've kindly been allowed to set something up on some private land just 10 minutes or so from home and over the last few weeks have been getting a feel for the location as well as setting up some feeders and perches. It only took a few days for the birds to find the food and since then it seems to be doing the job with blue, great, long-tailed, marsh and coal tits, nuthatches and great-spotted woodpeckers all making visits. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the initial positioning of things so made some changes at the end of the week ready for this weekend, including setting up a pop-up tent which I'm testing as a hide. I had a few hours on Saturday morning to see how things would go and am delighted to report success! Whillst there are still some tweaks to be made, I've already got some good results, my favourite of which is an adult great-spotted woodpecker. The tent is comfy enough, if a little low down in terms of shooting angle, but so far so good and I can't wait to have a full day shooting here. With autumn really kicking in now, I'm desperately hoping for some of the local jays to start visiting. In the meantime, here's that woody!

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker

 

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(Dave Collins Photography) http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/10/my-very-own-bird-feeding-station Sun, 30 Oct 2016 21:50:53 GMT
Sands of Time http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/9/sands-of-time Some good news to share and something I've always wished for since picking up a camera. One of my photos has been published! I was asked by Birdwatch magazine back in June if I'd be interested in having some photos used in a forthcoming edition and was obviously very pleased to say yes. Well, roll on a few months and one photo in particular has finally been published and what was an even nicer surprise was the fact it was used as a double page spread. Chuffed to bits and hopefully the first of many!

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(Dave Collins Photography) http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/9/sands-of-time Tue, 13 Sep 2016 21:15:31 GMT
Little Stints http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/little-stint Having recently added a Nikon D500 to my photographic armoury, I've been getting back to some bird photography after what feels like a very long time and I must admit I'd forgotten how much I'd missed it.

I've had a few 'practice' sessions with the new toy locally, with great-spotted woodpeckers being the main attraction and as always these have been very entertaining. After an initial worry about my lens and camera needing calibrating I've come to realise that they're both fine and the newly added auto-focus fine tune isn't something I'll need to play with. A great feature in theory but I can't help but think it will tempt people to mess with something that may well be best left just as it is...

Back on topic, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, waders are one of my favourite species to shoot and a very good place for these enchanting little birds is Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire. It's a place that can look desolate and dull but it is a seeming magnet for passage migrants and can turn up some real treats. I'd planned on an after-work visit and had been keeping an eye on sightings, little expecting for things to fall into place as they did. I'd considered going on Tuesday evening but ended up finishing work too late. Later that evening I saw that two little stints had been reported. Typical! I could only hope that they'd stay put long enough for me to get over and see them! 

My next opportunity came on Thursday evening and with the stints still present in the morning I headed to Farmoor as soon as I'd finished work, feeling excited of what lay ahead. If the stints weren't present I was sure there'd be something else to see, no doubt a Dunlin or two.

Upon getting out of the car I couldn't help but notice how calm it was. This would hopefully mean that if got down low as I usually do here I wouldn't get too wet. I opted for a bean bag and football sock combo to start with, feeling a tripod would be a bit too cumbersome for very low shooting. Not only that, it would mean a higher profile which any approaching birds may find disturbing.

The first birds I noticed were a couple of young pied wagtails, bouncing around before flitting out of sight. Mallards and coots were in abundance, with the latter seemingly in their hundreds. I soon reached the causeway that divides the two parts of the reservoir (F1 and the larger F2) and began the slow walk scanning both sides for anything wader-like. I was facing the sun so anything I was looking at was initially in silhouette and a few pied wagtails did their best to get my hopes up but they only had to show their profiles for the game to be up with their long tails the giveaway. The first wader that I found was a very sleepy dunlin, roosting high up on the bank of F1. I made a slow approach from distance and got a few shots before slowly retreating. 

DunlinDunlin I then found a group of four birds  and one of these was a little stint. What a stunning little thing it was too, about two thirds of the size of the dunlin it was keeping company. I slowly crouched down overlooking the bank as the group approached and just watched as they picked their way along the shore, occasionally calling and stopping every few yards to survey their surroundings. The little stint was very active, rarely lifting its head from probing for goodies. As they passed me by, I had the sun behind me and the light was very nice indeed and it was a great opportunity to real take in the plumage details. If I could find a lone bird, feeding towards the sun, I could be in luck. I carried on walking up the causeway, enjoying the calm and warmth of the sun and soon found another little stint on the other side of the causeway, this one on its own and showing a lot more colour in its plumage compared to the other. It was feeding away from the sun so not ideal for photos so I again sat down and watched it go about its business, no doubt refuelling following its migratory flight from wherever it was born, probably somewhere thousands of miles from its chosen pit-stop in Oxfordshire. For such a small bird, a mighty feat! After a good ten minutes, the little stint turned around and headed back towards me. This was what I'd been waiting for so I unpacked the camera, and tied my beanbag to my lens hood with the football sock. I do this to save me having to repeatedly adjust things and allow me to concentrate on what I'm doing. I walked about 15 metres further up the causeway before climbing down onto the concrete bank on the shore of F2, staying low at all times and moving very slowly. I got down to the waters edge, laid down flat and waited. 

This is when things go one of two ways. The first, and most infuriating, is someone sees me and either asks what I'm doing or just stands there and watches. More often than not, this results in the bird being disturbed and flying off or turning around again. The second, and most rewarding, is the bird carries on feeding, gets a feet feet away from me and then either turns around and carries on feeding, or takes a long walk around me and carries on feeding. Thankfully, with it being a weekday, the second scenario played out. The stint picked its way along the waters edge moving a few inches at a time before probing with its bill and unlike the first one seen, frequently stopped and lifted its head, allowing for some nice profile views. I kept my eye on the viewfinder and snapped away, with a few shots taken when the stint was still some distance away, just to allow it to get used to the sound of the shutter. I'm not sure if this is necessary and don't always do this, but it also allowed me to check the exposure was ok before the bird was in a nice range. It also allows some wider angle shots to show some environment. Looking at the below, you'd think I was on a beach!

Little StintLittle Stint

I took plenty of shots, with the D500 auto-focus doing a fine job of keeping up with a small, erratic target. I used a single focus point, back button focussing and filled my boots. Before long, the little stint was no more than four feet from me and was filling the frame. It had a little look around and then carried on back where it had come from. I waited a while before slowly getting up and getting back onto the causeway. Checking the results is always an exciting moment and with expectations high I'm glad to say it was worth the discomfort. I'd got some photos and the little stint hadn't been spooked. Result.

Little StintLittle Stint Little StintLittle Stint Little StintLittle Stint

Hard to argue that this is one smart wader. It was fab to see at such close range but that wasn't the end of my session. I walked a bit further up the causeway with a few more dunlin noted and a pair of very vocal, very flighty ringed plovers. They did touch down briefly but I didn't even try and get close. Some birds you just know are going to be off in a flash. A little while later, the first little stint I'd encountered was alone and a bit further up the bank, clearly having a break from feeding. I again approached from distance, this time belly-crawling very slowly towards the bird. At the first sign of it sensing me I stopped and watched. I didn't need to get too much closer so moved a few inches at a time before taking a few shots and then retreating just as slowly, leaving it to some well deserved rest. Again, the low shooting angle worked a treat, making it impossible to tell that this bird was on the edge of a huge concrete bowl!

Little StintLittle Stint I then found another pair of dunlin on the other side of the causeway, one tucked up behind some weeds taking a nap with another close-by seemingly in two minds about whether to go down to the waters edge and feed or join its companion for some rest. I caught this on camera, with the bird on one leg but alert showing off its profile. Again, the low angle worked well.

DunlinDunlin I then spent a good twenty minutes or so just watching the various bird activity, with plenty of gulls, coots, mallards and grebes milling about. By  now the sun was starting to drop and started casting a very nice warm glow to all and sunder. One of the little stints was again actively feeding so down to the water I went again for a few more shots.

Little StintLittle Stint On this occasion, the Little Stint was even more relaxed and confiding that it had been before. It just kept on coming, picking at the shoreline whilst getting closer and closer. It was soon within the minimum focus distance of my lens so it was time to stay still and observe. Still this tiny little bird kept coming and it was now just a few feet away. It had slowed down and was a little more cautious and I slowly raised my head to have a proper look. The plumage really was stunning and the stint was clearly happy to show off and stopped between my outstretched arm (supporting the end of the lens) and my face. It was no more than a foot from my face and was spectacular to see. A photo cannot capture such an encounter. The detail, size and movement of the bird were all right there in front of me and it was incredible. I wish I'd been wearing a Go-Pro but the memory is burnt into my mind. The stint considered carrying on past me but casually made a slow about-turn and headed away from me. I stayed still until it was a few metres away before slowly getting back to the causeway, wearing a huge grin on my face. I didn't even bother checking the photos at that point as they felt so inconsequential compared to such an epic close encounter. Those are the moments that make wildlife photography for me. Obviously it's extremely satisfying to get some decent shots but it's the trust gained by one's subject that's the real kicker and what made a Thursday evening at a reservoir so damn good. Roll on the next time!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird photography Calidris Minuta', Birds, Dunlin, D500 Farmoor Little Stint Wader http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/little-stint Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:13:19 GMT
Chalkhill Blues http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/chalkhill-blues Towards the end of July I had a fantastic walk around Cleeve Hill, specifically the Bill Smyllie/Prestbury Hill Reserve and the adjacent Masts Reserve, which accommodates the unmissable radio masts which can be seen from miles away. I'd gone in search of Dark Green Fritillaries though was a little worried I'd missed the main showing. I was right and had no sightings but was fortunate to see my first Chalkhill Blues of the year. These are one of latest butterflies to emerge in the UK and can often be found in huge numbers. That wasn't the case for me but I found several very fresh males during a fairly breezy morning and with it being cool and overcast, they were very approachable and I came home with plenty of photos, with a few below.

Chalkhill BlueChalkhill Blue Chalkhill BlueChalkhill Blue Chalkhill BlueChalkhill Blue

The most popular area for these delightful blues was the lower part of the Masts Reserve and they were relatively easy to spot when roosting up thanks to their relatively light appearance and tendency to roost a foot or so off the ground. Despite a thorough search though I was unable to find a female but given their much darker brown colouring they would be a lot harder to spot so perhaps I just didn't look hard enough. I had my fill of males though and decided I'd come back again to look for females.

My return visit was a week later on one of the stillest mornings I've experienced on Cleeve Hill. For those familiar with the place, it is more often than not being buffeted by winds even on what should be a still day, making macro photography a frustrating experience! I was determined to make the most of the kind weather and with thin cloud overhead the light was pretty good too so it was just a case of finding some butterflies. I'd arrived at just gone 6am, heading straight for the lower slopes of the Masts Reserve and for the first time had our dog with me. I was a little worried she'd be keen to go off sniffing here, there and everywhere but I was immediately proven wrong when I found my first Chalkhill Blue to photograph. I set up my tripod and she simply looked up at me, sat down and watched as I began shooting. This was the them for the rest of the morning and it was great to have some company for a change.

As was the case during my previous visit, it was the males that were found in numbers, with a lot more found with minimal effort. All of them were again pristine and having seen a Common Blue on arrival, it struck home that the Chalkhills are a lot bigger in comparison. Not huge, by any means, but certainly more sizeable and not something I'd noticed before.

Chalkhill BlueChalkhill Blue

After a good amount of searching I finally found a stunning female roosting up on a Knapweed flowerhead and soon had some very pleasings results on my memory card. Such a contrast to the male as can be seen in the photo below, which I think is my favourite Chalkhill Blue shot from this year:

Chalkhill BlueChalkhill Blue

The sun soon started to breakthrough and looking across the long grasses and flowerheads that covered the area, I could see a number of light blue shapes, clearly male butterflies beginning to bask and warm-up. I found a very obliging male close-by and watched him adjust his body position and wings to optimise the amount of sunlight hitting him. Such precise movements.

Chalkhill BlueChalkhill Blue

An unexpected but very welcome bonus find during the morning was my first Small Copper of the year. I always struggle to see more than a handful of these little crackers each year so when they do turn up it feels like a bit of a treat. I wasted no time in taking a few shots before my quarry made a hasty exit. I needn't have rushed though as it seemed more than content to just sit and enjoy the view, though it was continually adjusting its position when the sun threatened to break through.

A great couple of sessions and I couldn't help but wonder if these were my final butterfly hunting hours of the year. It turns out they weren't as I had a couple of flying visits to Daneway Banks in the middle of the month though butterflies were very low in numbers. A few second brood Common Blues were outnumbered by Brown Argus and beaten up looking Meadow Browns and Small Skippers. This obliging Brown Argus was shot just before sunset.

Brown ArgusBrown Argus An exciting development in August was the arrival of a new camera body. With autumn and winter just around the corner I decided it was time for a new tool to help with my bird photography. Given the glowing reviews of the Nikon D500 and it being a DX (cropped sensor) body, I couldn't resist. The D800 won't be going anywhere but the D500 will give me 1.5x more reach along with another 6 frames per second to play with. Add in good low light performance at high ISO, I'm looking forward to seeing what it can do. I say that as if I haven't been out with it yet, when in fact I have....so watch this space as another blog post will be coming in the next week or so!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Chalkhill Blue Cleeve Hill Macro Masts Reserve Prestbury Hill Reserve http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/chalkhill-blues Sat, 20 Aug 2016 11:25:11 GMT
Dordogne Butterflies: Part 2 http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/dordogne-butterflies-part-2 So, I'd already hit the jackpot with the Swallowtails found earlier in the week. One thing I hadn't got which became an afterthought, was a shot of a Swallowtail roosting with it's wings closed. Surely we wouldn't find more, would we....?

Wednesday 29th June

It was back up to the Causse de Terrason above Condat for 6.30am. Another glorious still morning with no mist today. We headed straight for the area where we’d had luck with a Swallowtail the day before hoping it wasn’t a one off. A few worn Spotted Fritillaries were roosting on the usual flowerheads before we decided to split up to cover more ground, Dad taking the ‘good’ side, me going for the usually quieter ground. Unsurprisingly, I hadn’t gone far when I heard an excited shout. He’d not done it again had he? As I got to Dad he said he’d found another Swallowtail. He HAD done it again, though he lost points for what happened next. He said it had its wings closed yet I was looking down at one with its wings wide open. “You mean wings open?” I quipped. “No, closed, there” and in front of Dad no more than 6 feet from the Swallowtail I was looking at was another! Boom! Talk about the early bird catching the worm! As I’d got some shots of the open wings the day before I spent my time with the roosting individual shooting various angles. It’s hard to put into words what it felt like to have such a stunning butterfly there in front of me, looking like an absolute majesty. A look over my shoulder and there was another. I can’t recall a more perfect moment spent photographing a butterfly. The sun was now climbing and giving a lovely warm glow and this really set off the butterfly and background.

SwallowtailSwallowtail SwallowtailSwallowtail After reluctantly leaving the Swallowtails to it, we went back to the car for coffee before we headed towards the higher ground. This was again teeming with butterflies but what caught our attention was an unusual bird call. We worked hard to locate it but when we did we were both suitably impressed as it was a spanking male Cirl Bunting. Beauty! No more new butterflies but a thoroughly enjoyable few hours.

In the evening we headed down to the meadows around the house. A roosting Wood White was a good start but things nosedived dramatically as the meadow that had been home to so many Black-veined Whites was now a ruin of cut grass! It was a heart breaking sight and put a real dampener on things. The adjacent meadows were thankfully intact and seemed to have more residents than before, no doubt thanks to some mass immigration…

Thursday 30th June

A much needed lie in today, with us up by about 10am for a decent breakfast. We decided to go a little further afield today and chose the Plateau d’Argentine as our destination for an afternoon visit. We departed at midday and the drove North West along some very scenic roads. The small town of Cubjac stood out as a real gem, reached via a bridge over a wide river and weir which led into the very quaint looking town centre. Further on we noticed some great looking butterfly habitat but as was becoming a frequent occurrence, there was no obvious place to pull over and park up. Onwards we went, seeing Jays aplenty as well as a few Buzzards and Black Kites, some of them perched up on hay bales. We eventually arrived at Plateau d’Argentine at 1:25pm and fuelled up with coffee. A little wander around the parking area revealed a Spotted Fritillary, a few Turqoise and Common Blues and an as yet unidentified skipper. We then began exploring the main reserve and sadly didn’t add any new butterflies to our list. The weather was fairly windy and overcast which didn’t help our cause. A few sizeable lizards were good to see but they were impossible to get close to, shooting off into the undergrowth as soon as they sensed us. We spent a good three and a half hours walking around and whilst we did see a good number of butterflies we both came away feeling a little disappointed.

On the way home we stopped at a disused quarry where a few blues and a Small Copper were noted. We called it quits and heading back home, enjoying a few beers and a hearty salad for dinner, ready for another early start on Friday.

Friday 1st July

We opted for another early session to avoid the heat of the day and played it safe, heading to the Causse de Terrason. A few dragonflies were roosting up for a change so we took some pics of those before Dad found a very smart Baton Blue – a new butterfly for the trip. The usual Marbled Whites abounded as did a dishevelled Spotted Fritillary. We then found a roosting Swallowtail but resisted the urge to photograph it. We meandered a bit further down the track than normal, stopping to listen to a Golden Oriole. As that was singing, I saw what I thought was a Jay fly out of the scrub but it didn’t look right so I got the bins on it and realised it was a Hoopoe. At last! I got Dad onto it and we watched it for a few minutes with its crest up for a short time before it disappeared from view. We turned around and headed to the top area and this revealed another Baton Blue, a Black-veined White and the usual suspects seen during previous visits.

It was then time for a coffee and biscuit break back at the car. We then explored a new area close by and in a small glade found a few Weavers Fritillaries bouncing about, more blues, hairstreaks and Marbled Whites and another Swallowtail, this one a very friendly and inquisitive one! For the next hour or so we added Speckled Wood, Small Copper, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Heath Fritillary and Cleopatra to the list.

For some variety we left the Condat area and drove across the Vezere River to check out the other side of the valley. A wrong turn took us to hunting territory so we made a quick exit and found the right road and parked up. The public footpath was well hidden but I went for a quick look. It headed up into woodland and after a while I gave up and turned back to meet Dad at the car. I checked the map and the path was supposed to lead to some clearings so we agreed to give it a go. After 5 minutes of climbing I went on and left Dad to have a rest. By the time I reached the clearing I was knackered, sweaty and irritable. Then a Swallowtail flew past. Mood lifted, I had a super quick look around and loved what I saw. Loads of pockets of meadow full of wildflowers and there butterflies everywhere. I met up with Dad and we agreed that the climb was too far with camera gear so we went back to the car. A check of the map revealed a potential alternative entrance so we headed for that. It didn’t work out as planned but we did find an adjacent area at the end of the small village/hamlet of Les Farges and with ample parking, decided to have a look around. In summary,  it was covered in excellent habitat with plenty of butterflies present including lots of Swallowtails, Cleopatra, Brimstone and Great Banded Grayling. Certainly a site to be revisited…..

Saturday 2nd July

Today was our last full day so we wanted to make the most of it and have a good one. We arose at our now normal time of 5am but looking outside it seemed like bed would be a better alternative. Thick cloud and a stiff breeze made butterflying a questionable choice but we were up and by the time we were on the road the cloud was being blown over. We arrived at our newly scouted location at just gone 6am and the first butterflies found roosting were marbled whites, an Adonis Blue, and a Spotted Fritillary. I nearly stood on a Swallowtail which was roosting almost on the ground and only noticed it when it flashed open its wings. It was still quite dull so whilst Dad did some filming I went off exploring. An hour later and I’d not found anything of note so heading back towards where we started to see if Dad had discovered anything. On my way to him I found a large area of flowers and quickly noticed a roosting Swallowtail. I did a lap of the flowers to cover all angles and it was a good job I did as on the same flower was another Swallowtail. I moved in for a closer look and then noticed a third just a few flowers across. Incredible. And it made me wonder if they like to congregate like this as this is the second time this week we’ve found them close together.  It then rained for the first time all week so we hastened back to the car for some coffee whilst the rain clouds scudded over. It didn’t take long for the weather to improve though unfortunately the wind was a little stronger than it had been all week. Returning to the Swallowtails, it was pretty much impossible to get both butterflies in focus on the same flower but you can’t have it all so I spent some time with the single Swallowtail and got some nice shots with a cleaner background than previously. The occasional flash of open wings made for some nice variation and I came away with a big smile on my face and hopefully some decent images.

SwallowtailSwallowtail SwallowtailSwallowtail SwallowtailSwallowtail

We then had a long walk around the various pockets of meadow, with Golden Oriole song a constant distraction. The exploration paid off as we found a roosting Two Spotted Fritillary and a Heath Fritillary, though the latter didn’t hand around as the sun started to emerge and immediately triggered mass flight with butterflies everywhere.

Twin Spotted FritillaryTwin Spotted Fritillary Great Banded Grayling were particularly common, gliding powerfully low over the dry stone and grasses. An Oberthurs Skipper was a first for the trip and Dad managed to see a Golden Oriole which I missed.

Great-banded GraylingGreat-banded Grayling We then returned to the house for the last time to get packed ready for the long drive home. Once we'd done most of the packing and had dinner we had one final walk down to the meadows nearby as I wanted to get at least a record shot of the Red-backed Shrike. It was of course in its usual place so I opted for a stealthy approach using hedges, trees, long grass and my bag hide as cover. I got into a cracking position but after twenty minutes there was no sign of the shrike so I made an equally stealthy retreat. Getting back onto the road and looking across to where I'd been sat the shrike. I conceded defeat to a very sneaky bird!

All in all, we'd had a brilliant week with so much fantastic wildlife seen. We'd hoped to see more butterfly species but couldn't complain with those we did manage and the time spent with the Swallowtails was by and away one of the best butterfly related memories I've had. Quality not quantity, as the saying goes. We will definitely be back for more!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Dordogne France Macro photography http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/dordogne-butterflies-part-2 Mon, 08 Aug 2016 14:32:38 GMT
Dordogne Butterflies: Part 1 http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/7/dordogne-butterflies I've recently been fortunate enough to spend a week in the the Dordogne area of France with nothing on the agenda other than exploring and photographing the wildlife of this stunning region. I say wildlife, but in reality the vast majority of photos taken were of butterflies, though given this was the main purpose of the visit that's no bad thing. We spent the week at a wonderful house just outside the small town of Thenon and had a few areas to visit in mind but no real plan. More a case of find our feet, explore the area and see what happens. I kept a journal to summarise each day so here's the first part...

Day 1 - Sunday 26th June

Having driven through the night we arrived at our base for the week at just gone 08:30 and getting out of the car we were greeted with extremely warm sunshine and butterflies already on the wing. Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns were the first seen and a large log pile close the parking area was obviously a popular reptile hang-out with a number of lizards heard shooting out of sight into the brambles. Just before we'd arrived I'd added a new lifer in the form a low Black Kite, the first of many seen during the week. We unloaded the car straight away and as we did this I noticed what I thought was a large fritillary fly over my head and onto the barn next to the house. I went and double-checked and couldn't believe it was in fact a Large Tortoiseshell! What a butterfly it was. I called Dad over and we both just watched as it basked on a wooden window frame. A mighty fine start to the day! We unpacked, had a cuppa, then opted to go for a little walk down the lane from the house. It was incredibly warm already but this did mean that butterflies were extremely active. On our way down through the shaded part of the lane we saw numerous Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods. These looked a lot more orange than those we get in the UK. We were soon out of the shade and into the blazing sun and in front of us were a number of hay meadows and grassy fields on either side of the road. The left hand side had a long but fairly low hedge running through it and I said to Dad it looked good for shrikes so we had a quick scan. A smallish finch-sized bird dropped from view and was followed by something slightly larger so a bit more attention was needed. I was then onto a cracking Cirl Bunting - another lifer - before I noticed the larger bird. It was a male Red-backed Shrike. What a stunner! A female then popped into view so a double whammy and a brilliant moment. We were feeling super confident for the week ahead given this initial success. We watched the shrikes and bunting for about 15 minutes before moving on to explore the many butterflies we could see active over the meadows. These were mostly what we'd seen on the walk down but added to the list were our first Black-veined Whites, a Spotted Fritillary and a few blues, probably Common judging by what we could see but also an Adonis.

We then returned back to the house for another cuppa and then popped to the local Carrefour to get some supplies for the next few days. Salads, pasta, bolognese and beans would be our exotic diet for the week ahead! Back home we had a sit down in the garden, noticing a few Hummingbird Hawkmoths nectoring on the lavendar in the garden. We then had our first of many visits from a pair of Black Redstarts which seemed to be using the roof of the adjacent barn as a stop off point between where they were feeding and, presumably, their nest. The male was a real belter! By now we were flagging so it was time for some much needed sleep.

After waking late afternoon feeling marginally more human, we had some food before again going for a stroll down to the meadows. The male shrike was still present as were hundreds of Marbled Whites, now starting to roost up. No new butterflies seen but we did find a few beautiful Black-Veined Whites roosting, nearly all of them on purple flowers. I made a mental note of where they were as was considering a dawn start if I could get up early enough....

Black-veined WhiteBlack-veined White

Day 2 - Monday 27th June

As planned and rather surprisingly, I managed to get up just after 5am to head down to the meadows in hope of roosting Black-veined Whites. The meadow in which I needed to be was the lowest in this little area and was filled with mist so this suggested some dew-soaked butterflies would await me. Thankfully the Black-veined Whites were still present so I took photos of a number of these. 

Black-veined WhiteBlack-veined White Black-veined WhiteBlack-veined White

Marbled Whites were as usual in their hundreds but I resisted getting distracted by them and after a few wonderfully peaceful hours opted to head back for some breakfast. Walking back up towards the house at about 8am the shrike was again present as was a Wood White along the lane - another butterfly to add to our trip list.

After a much needed breakfast we headed out in the car for a look around and opted for the Causse de Terrason, about 20 minutes from the house. We didn't know exactly where to go but eventually found a parking area situated next to a view point so figured we were in the right place. We hadn’t got out of the car before a Marbled Fritillary and 2 Blue-spot Hairstreaks were seen nectoring on the bramble next to us. We had a quick coffee and then had a look around some fairly open scrub next to the road and found loads of hairstreaks, Marbled Whites a few blues and a few more Marbled Fritillaries. Also found was our first Pearly Heath - a much more attractive but similarly sized version of the Small Heath. Across the road, where power cables transected the valley there was a corridor of long grass and scrub with woodland each side. Whilst Dad stayed in the first area doing some filming I went and investigated this new area and it wasn't long before I saw my first ever Swallowtail, initially seen flying up and down before settling to give incredible close up views. I called Dad over and we enjoyed a few minutes watching it before it moved on. A few small Weavers Fritillaries were noted as was our first Woodland Grayling, which disappeared impressively when it landed on a tree trunk and closed its wings. Such incredible camouflage.

The grassy corridor continued for quite a distance but just off it things opened up into more a more sparsely vegetated grassland area which was alive with butterflies including Cleopatra, a few more Swallowtails, Wall Brown, Woodland and Great banded Graylings, Weavers and Spotted Fritillaries. Black Kites regularly appeared overhead and our first snake – a stunning orange Asp Viper - was seen as it disappeared under  a bush. A long day but some great wildlife seen and we ended the day with a pleasant walk down to the meadows, where the usual suspects were present and correct.

Day 3 - Tuesday 28th June

Another 5am alarm to beat the heat and we again opted to explore more of the Causse de Terrasson at Condat. Conditions were clear when we left but we climbed up the causse road in thick low cloud / mist and therefore it was extremely wet underfoot and visibility was poor. A few dew-soaked blues were encountered before Dad found a quite magnificent Spotted Fritillary. It was soaked in dew but the coloration and markings were remarkable up close. I got set up and began taking photos before a Golden Oriole began singing close by. Magic.

A Small Heath was also roosting nearby but we carried on looking in hope of something more unusual and decided to split up to cover more ground. It wasn't too long before I got a very excited call from Dad who was pretty much jumping up and down waving his arms – I could only just see him through the mist which was now being illuminated by the fast-rising sun. I reached his location with great intrigue and there in front of him was an immaculate Swallowtail, wings spread, just sat there. Wow. Undoubtedly one of the most incredible butterflying moments I have ever experienced. Suffice to say I was soon firing off shots to capture the beauty of the awesome butterfly that we were looking it.

SwallowtailSwallowtail SwallowtailSwallowtail

The light was now fairly strong and I suspected it wouldn't be long before this whopping insect would be taking off. The mist was still present though now burning off and I thought the view looking at the Swallowtail front on made a real contrast to the open wing view from behind (shown above). Furthermore, the mist was being blown across the grassy opening we were in and I was pleased to capture this in a very atmospheric shot, helped by some nice back-lighting to accentuate the mist.

SwallowtailSwallowtail

Tearing ourselves away from the Swallowtail, we found another 3 Spotted Fritillaries all in the same area then right next to them a Swallowtail caterpillar.

Spotted FritillarySpotted Fritillary

We then walked down the valley and things were starting to stir by now with more blues seen, many basking with their wings open and angled to maximise the amount of sun hitting them and then we found another Swallowtail, this one with it's wings still closed and showing it’s under-wing. Before I could get a shot it opened its wings very quickly, and what to me seemed a defensive move, no doubt designed to deter predators. I took a few shots before it took to the sky in powerful flight. We'd had a truly fantastic morning.

After a refuel (coffee and biscuits) we drove down to Tursac, turning off the D706 and heading up to the top of the valley. We didn't find anything that resembled suitable habitat until we arrived at a small chapel (Notre Dame de Fontpeyrine) in the middle of nowhere, which backed onto a small meadow. Heath & Marsh Fritillaries were soon found along with Small Copper, Large White, Wood Whites and plenty of Marbled Whites. It was extremely hot to I didn't even try and get any photos as it was hard to find a butterfly that wasn't moving at a million miles an hour!

The rest of the afternoon was equally too hot so we chilled at the house and I made use of he time by processing the photos I'd taken so far. We had another walk down to the local meadow with a Large Tortoiseshell and Comma of note. We agreed on another early start so it was soon time to hit the sack!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Blog Butterflies Butterfly Photography Dordogne France Insects Macro Nature Swallowtail Trip Report Wildlife http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/7/dordogne-butterflies Sun, 10 Jul 2016 13:02:59 GMT
I Got The Blues http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/6/i-got-the-blues No, this post has nothing to do with my mood yesterday morning when I woke up to the shocking news that the UK has voted to leave the EU. There has been so much negativity and division in the news over recent weeks that I've found my post-work forays around meadows even more beneficial. Escapism at its natural best and my main place for escaping as hinted in my previous post has been Daneway Banks, nestled near Sapperton in Gloucestershire. During the summer months this becomes an almost second home for me as there is always something to see and this year has been no exception.

I've made a number of visits since the start of June and one thing that stands out this year is the lack of Common Blues. I've only found a handful so far this year and they've all been fairly worn and battered so it may be that the first brood emerged a bit earlier. Having looked back at previous images I suspect July will be a more fruitful month with, hopefully, a bigger emergence to come.

The main attraction for visitors though is the Large Blue. A once extinct species on UK soil, this butterfly has been reintroduced at a small number of sites and we're fortunate to have one such site close to home. Over the three years I've been visiting Daneway Banks I've found the Large Blue without too much trouble suggesting that numbers are doing well. Over the last few weeks, I've found at least one of these impressive butterflies on every visit, partially due to knowing their preferred areas, though they can be found throughout the reserve. My highest count is three in one visit which was on the evening of Thursday 23rd June. Nothing to shout home about but I only gave a small area a search and I arrived an hour before sunset so not bad going. In terms of photography, I've still yet to get that open wing shot but I have finally got a shot of one roosting on an orchid - something I've been hoping for for some time!

Large BlueLarge Blue

The orchid of choice was a Common-spotted Orchid and I stumbled upon this one just before sunset on a breezy evening. It was therefore a case of hoping that at least one frame came out with everything in focus and sharp. Thankfully a few frames met this criteria with the above my favourite image.

A few days later I made an early morning visit hoping to find a Large Blue roosting and, hopefully, to see it warm itself up and open those wings. Sadly, the sun didn't emerge but I did find an incredibly fresh female, which really stood out amongst the grass. It was remarkably larger than any individual I can remember and was pristine. I got a number of shots and was very pleased to point this butterfly out to a few visitors who'd never seen one before. Always a great privilege to share special moments like this with other like-minded people.

Large BlueLarge Blue

My most recent visit was a quick one on the way home from the pub and I found three individuals of varying size and condition, with one of these roosting right next to a path and even better on a photogenic plant. An awkward and careful amount of manouvering was required to get a clean background.

Large BlueLarge Blue

 

Large BlueLarge Blue During the last few visits the Marbled White population has begun to emerge and numbers are really increasing now, though I'm still yet to find a female. A morning visit saw plenty of males basking in the warmth despite the sun not being out. One of these posed very nicely indeed.

Marbled WhiteMarbled White

The next time I'll post will be on my return from France. Later on this evening, Dad and I will be heading south to the Dordogne area for a whole week of wildlife photography. Butterflies are very high on the list though I'm hoping for some decent birds too! I just hope things live up to expectations and that I come home with some amazing memories, and if I'm really lucky, some decent images. See you on the other side, mes amies! 

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Daneway Banks Gloucestershire Large Blue Lepidoptera Macro Photography http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/6/i-got-the-blues Sat, 25 Jun 2016 15:13:58 GMT
June Gems http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/6/june-gems Following my last blog post, which covered my exploits in May, I had planned on writing a follow-up post about the dragonflies and damselflies I've seen so far this year however the butterflying season has me well and truly hooked and shows no sign of letting up, with June getting off to a brilliant start!

Last weekend, I visited Linear Park in the Forest of Dean with Dad. The aim was to see my first ever Wood Whites. Other than reading that a colony resided at the northern end of the park, I had nothing to go on but decided it was worth a visit if only to explore a new location. Thankfully, within ten minutes I found my first Wood White so it was a case of mission accomplished. However, I obviously wanted to get a photo or two to capture the moment and that's when I discovered Wood Whites can be flighty little things. Watching these butterflies in flight is something I've heard lots about and seeing it with my own eyes made me appreciate their description as 'dainty'. Eventually this small, almost ethereal creature settled on a fairly accessible perch though it took some contortion to get low enough and ensure all of the butterfly was in focus. I only managed two frames before it was off again but fortune smiled as they were both keepers.

Wood WhiteWood White

We saw three in total at Linear Park and later on took a drive up to Brierley but a long walk around there drew a blank. We were also keeping our eyes open for Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries but again no joy. A shame as this species is another of my absolute favourites. On my way home I stopped by at Daneway banks for a quick walk around but all was quiet. My gut feel was it was still too early for the Large Blues but the fact that they had been reported in Somerset combined with the warm weather gave me a glimmer of hope. A few days later I heard through the grapevine that a Large Blue had been seen at Daneway banks on Sunday - I should've looked harder! I did put more effort in on Thursday after work, waiting until things had cooled down and was rewarded with finding two pristine specimens. One was still very active and the other was tucked up deep in the undergrowth, so no photos yet but I'll be back up there very soon.

Now onto the main topic of this blog. Following my Wood White expedition I was in two minds as to whether to stay local or go further afield again for something more exotic. The repeated reports and photos of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries throughout the week had really whet my appetite and as these are limited to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire it was here or elsewhere, with Somerset the nearest alternative. The latter sounded more reliable so I did some research and decided on a maiden venture to Priddy Mineries. Friday night was spent checking the forecast which seemed to change by the hour but I was for once in a decisive mood and promised I'd go, no matter what. Given the recent mild conditions I wanted to get there nice and early before the insect life became too active, so the alarm was buzzing at 4am. I was up surprisingly easily and with coffee and food packed I was on the road in no time. The drive was uneventful with the exception of a suicidal Wood Pigeon which lost its battle with my bumper. The resulting cloud of feathers filled me guilt but there was little I could do. By 6am, I was parked up and ready to begin looking, and my view when exiting the car park was a cracker. 

Crossing the road, I immediately began scanning the grass for roosting butterflies. It didn't take me long to find my first Dor beetles, with plenty of frog-hoppers also resting up on the grasses. I was tempted to get some photos of both species but decided to focus my efforts and time looking for my main target. The rain was falling, though it wasn't too heavy and the temperature was just about right. I spent a good hour looking around with no joy and was starting to feel a little worried that today wasn't going to go to plan but I reminded myself I had the whole day. A Smooth Newt in amongst some short grass made me smile but it retreated when I moved in for a closer look. I carried on walking and was trying to check both sides of one of the main paths so was moving forwards very slowly. Then I hit the jackpot. A larger than expected orange shape on some grass caught my eye and it took me a few seconds to process that I had just found my first Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary of the year and it was an absolute beauty, looking pristine. I wasted no time in getting my camera gear ready and my macro lens was soon earning its keep. Throughout the next few hours I had an absolutely brilliant session with a few more butterflies found. The long drive had thankfully paid off and I felt extremely satisfied as a result and am really pleased with the images I left with.

Small Pearl-bordered FritillarySmall Pearl-bordered Fritillary Small Pearl-bordered FritillarySmall Pearl-bordered Fritillary Small Pearl-bordered FritillarySmall Pearl-bordered Fritillary Small Pearl-bordered FritillarySmall Pearl-bordered Fritillary Small Pearl-bordered FritillarySmall Pearl-bordered Fritillary Small Pearl-bordered FritillarySmall Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Towards lunch time the sun was trying to break through and the butterflies were a lot easier to spot, obviously responding to the increase in temperature. A few Common Blues and Large Skippers were noted, as was a very obliging fritillary.

Small Pearl-bordered FritillarySmall Pearl-bordered Fritillary

The early start had paid dividends, as had the long drive. I was also pleased I'd committed to this visit despite the forecast as in the past I would probably have decided to stay closer to home. As well as some pleasing images I'd come home with a more focused and determined attitude so a few more further a field trips may be to come! Talking of trips, I'm super excited as Dad and I have a week in Dordogne to look forward to at the end of June. Butterflies are the main target though I'm looking forward to some interesting birds too.

Now, where are those Large Blues hiding...

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly photography Forest of Dean Gloucestershire Macro Macro photography Nature Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary Somerset Wildlife Wood White http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/6/june-gems Sun, 12 Jun 2016 14:04:21 GMT
May Butterflies http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/may-butterflies It's that time of year once again when my attention gets uncontrollably drawn to the smaller winged wildlife of the UK - primarily butterflies and dragonflies. Whilst I've had some great moments with the latter already this year, this post is all about the former, and has a definite feel of deja-vu about it...

My first butterfly photographed this year is one I've struggled with in the past. They're normally seen when I'm driving or when I haven't got my camera with me so when I found a roosting male Orange-Tip after work when looking for dragonflies I was very pleased indeed. I was obviously fully expecting it to fly off as soon as I got set up but it obliged and remained perfectly still! It was a windy evening so I came home with a memory card full of slightly blurred shots however a handful were fine. Yay!

Orange TipOrange Tip Early to mid-May traditionally sees the emergence of two of my favourite butterfly species, namely marsh and pearl-bordered fritillaries. I'm extremely fortunate to have established colonies of both species just a few miles from home so I've been making the most of my spare time and have spent many hours of the last few weeks spread across a handful of sites. After a few unsuccessful forays during the first two weeks of May, patience and perseverance came to fruition with good numbers of pearl-bordered fritillaries found during a warm and sunny Sunday morning. The weather however meant that it was extremely difficult to get close to these flighty butterflies and I ended up leaving with the camera not getting a workout. I wasn't disappointed though as it's always a relief when this threatened species emerges for another year. A week later I tried again and the weather was again fairly warm and bright and I saw four fritillaries almost immediately after entering their favoured compartment. There were plenty of these orange gems whizzing about and as they were last week, proved hard to get close to. I noticed one particular butterfly repeatedly dropping down into an area of long grass before moving off. On closer inspection, I found a very fresh looking specimen crawling up a stem and I presume this was a freshly emerged individual given how docile it was. After some time it flew weakly to a fern and settled in the open, allowing me to get some shots of both the top and underside of its wings before it again fluttered away.

Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary

Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary A little while later I was joined by Dad who wanted to do some filming so we spent a while looking for basking individuals and after some success he noticed another fritillary very close by. Only it was two and they were mating - something I'd not seen before! I managed a couple of images before rain moved in. The heavens soon opened and we were forced to take cover, ending our session. Still, a great few hours!

Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary I've had another couple of visits but on both occasions have spent my time with super-charged butterflies that clearly don't want to have their photo taken. Even early morning starts have proved unsuccessful as I haven't been able to find any roosters. Hopefully I'll have a few more chances over the next few weeks!

During this same period, the marsh fritillaries have emerged at Strawberry Banks and to me at least they seem to be even more numerous than they were last year! My first visit was on a cool evening and I found at least a dozen without even trying, including two roosting in very photogenic spots.

Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary My next visit was a very early morning session and it took me a good while to find my first one. It had been relatively cold overnight so the fritillaries were unsurprisingly very low down in the grass making them very difficult to spot. I enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the site and soon the sun had burnt off the low cloud and mist and the fritillaries began to emerge from their slumber. Slowly but surely I spotted more and more, often in places I'd already looked. The sun was now pounding some serious warmth and this really woke things up with several butterflies taking to the air for the first time that day. However, thick cloud would intermittently block this and put the butterflies back down, making them easier to photograph. I waited for the sun to come back out to get my first decent open-wing shot of a resting fritillary and this tactic seemed to work well. Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary

Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary My most recent visit was late afternoon in hot (compared to normal!) sunshine and photography was a back-seat thought as I was really just hoping to see how abundant the marsh fritillaries were. I wasn't at all disappointed and over a couple of hours going into early evening I must've seen a good couple of hundred. They were extremely active with loads of twos and threes seen chasing each other, in turn putting up butterflies that were nectoring or basking. I even found three mating pairs (another first!) so it was definitely a worthwhile visit. By now the sun had started to disappear behind the trees and the lower slopes were now in deep shadow and starting to really cool down, meaning the marsh fritilliaries were now quite docile and therefore much easier to photograph. Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary
A terrific couple of weeks and I haven't mentioned the Red-footed Falcon that's taken up residence in the Cotswold Water Park over the last fortnight. Thankfully I have managed to see it though it proved a hard-to-find bird and has not been easy to get on camera but it's a terrific looking adult female. A lifer for me and I hope I get to see it again before it moves on. It will no doubt have been taking advantage of the many dragonflies and damselflies that have emerged during the last month and I've seen plenty of species in good numbers and I'm planning on dedicating a post to those over the coming weeks. Plenty to see locally and keep me busy so hopefully lots more excitement to come!
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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly photography Cotswolds Gloucestershire Lepidotera Macro Marsh Fritillary Nature Orange-Tip Pearl-bordered Fritillary Strawberry Banks Wildlife http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/may-butterflies Sat, 28 May 2016 21:14:09 GMT
California Dreamin'; Part Two http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/california-dreamin-part-two If you read my previous post you'll remember me talking about a quick scan of Ocean Beach in San Francisco whilst exploring on a day out during my recent visit to the USA. We'd opted to walk from the beach back to the city centre, via Golden Gate Park, and on arriving at the beach I just had to have a look at what was about. This sneak peek at the beach really got me excited as there were hundreds of waders feeding up and down the shore line, including whimbrel, marbled godwit and plenty of sanderlings, and I'm an absolute sucker for waders! They've always been one of my favourite groups of birds, probably because I associate them with the coast and beaches. Maybe because of their unique build, often with long legs and an equally long bill. I was therefore determined to spend some time trying to photograph the waders of Ocean Beach so agreed with my very understanding other half that I'd get up before sunrise to have a few hours of photography whilst she enjoyed a lie in.

Wednesday 4th May saw my alarm buzzing at 5:30am and it seemed very dark out still. Sunrise wasn't until around 6:00am so I got dressed, gathered my gear and hit the road. Well, the tracks. I didn't have a long wait for the metro from Powell Street and the train was soon rattling along underground. When the train escaped the darkness of the tunnel system things didn't get much brighter. Thick, dark, threatening clouds had an equally dulling affect on my mood. This was not part of my plan and wasn't forecast. I hoped things would improve in the 30 minutes or so left of the remaining journey but they only got worse with rain soon falling. Arse. I eventually arrived at Ocean Beach at just gone 7 and the rain had eased though the leaden skies still hung depressingly overhead. I ploughed on, crossing the main road and climbed the sand dunes that divided civilisation and the Pacific. It was here that I noticed a sign warning that this was a protected area, specifically for over-wintering snowy plovers. I took a slight detour here and crested the last dune to be greeted with a fairly high tide and thousands of waders feeding in all directions. At least the birds had read the script. I sat down and got my binoculars out and noticed whimbrel and sanderlings but no godwits. I then got my camera gear out and began the short walk down the beach. Given I'd planned on low level shooting, I had a change of top, a towel and a few flannels with me to ensure I didn't go back looking like a plonker. I'd also opted for shorts and flip-flops figuring this would mean a quicker drying process.

I got relatively close to a mixed flock of about 150 birds and led down, hoping the birds would eventually move my way. It took a while for this to happen and when it did I noticed a couple of very small waders which turned out to be my first ever snowy plovers - when they stood still they almost disappeared, melting into the sand such is their amazing camouflage! Unfortunately these stunning little things and the sanderlings they were with zipped past me as quick as a flash. It was slightly too dull to get anything sharp so I just led still enjoying the continual peeping of these super quick birds. Two whimbrel were with the flock and they were in much less of a hurry but the sanderlings had my attention and I was now facing them with the whimbrel behind me. The light was slowly improving but it then began raining. Bottom. I contemplated moving but there was no cover and I'd planned to get a bit wet so stayed put, as chilly as I was starting to feel. After a few minutes I had a cautious glance over my shoulder and was surprised to see the two whimbrel much closer so I made a very slow and careful turn to face them and managed to avoid spooking them. They came a little closer before one made a swift beeline for the waters edge. The remaining whimbrel seemed curious though and stepped closer still, taking a few steps before pausing. This allowed me to get some images of this lovely wader in a few different poses, and I was over the moon when seeing the results on the back of the camera. Here are a few of my favourites. If only the light had been better!

WhimbrelWhimbrel WhimbrelWhimbrel WhimbrelWhimbrel WhimbrelWhimbrel WhimbrelWhimbrel My moment with the whimbrel was rudely interrupted by an onrushing wave which I luckily noticed with just enough time to get up and out of the way. In hindsight I'd have got a nice shot as the whimbrel would've been up to its knees in water though I'm not sure the following few hours would've been comfortable for me with sopping wet pants!

Given I was now stood up I had a scan around and there were a good number of sanderlings not too far away so I slowly walked in their direction. It was then that I noticed a few more snowy plovers - tiny little things that I only noticed when they scuttled away from me. I went low again and slowly belly crawled to the nearest bird though it was fairly wary and I couldn't get too close without it motoring away. After a few minutes it relaxed and I got a couple of pleasing frames of a new and very cute little wader.

Snowy PloverSnowy Plover Snowy PloverSnowy Plover The sanderlings behaved in a similar manner though in much greater numbers, sticking together pretty much all the time. What also struck me was the incredible range of plumage these birds were showing. Some were extremely dull looking whilst a number were in full summer breeding plumage, consisting of a doppled reds and oranges. It was a challenge to isolate individual birds but I did get a few images of lone birds, picking them out on the many occasions when they veered around me at great speed, sometimes pausing inquisitively to give the unusual camera toting creature a once over.

SanderlingSanderling SanderlingSanderling SanderlingSanderling When the flock wasn't playing roulette with the ebbing tide, they were either starting to roost or busily feeding in the freshly soaked sand, probing with their bills. One moment that I'm really glad I managed to capture was a pair of sanderlings feeding together whilst looking at me. It was an extremely brief exchange and I loved the symmetry as they both hit the sand at the same time.

SanderlingSanderling After this wader-fest I wandered along the beach and was blown away by the sheer number of sanderlings. They were everywhere, often in pockets of 50-100 birds. I didn't see any more snowy plovers but did come across a group of 20+ whimbrels, many of which were higher up on the beach resting. During my wander I saw numerous brown pelicans cruising along out at sea along with a couple of surf scoters and a flyover caspian tern. Birding abroad is definitely something I plan on doing more of as everything has an air of excitement about it. You just don't know what will be around the corner.

This brings me onto our final full day in the city. We hadn't taken a tram ride so far so did that, going from Powell Street to Fisherman's Wharf. From there we walked along the sea front to Crissy Fields. Along the way we went past a large mariner and I noticed loads of small dark crabs on the rocks bordering the water. They scuttled away as soon as we approached and on keeping my eyes on the water a few minutes later spotted a black-crowned night heron hunting. It was very close, very confiding and gave me the chance to take a few picks before flying off to the other side of the mariner. A cracking bird with a beastly eye colour!

Black-crowned Night HeronBlack-crowned Night Heron That was the last bird I photographed from the two weeks I had away and given I wasn't on a proper photography break I'm really pleased with the number of new bird species seen and the images I got to bring home. San Francisco and the surrounding areas we did see were utterly brilliant and I'd love to go back. The wildlife was as impressive and the Golden Gate Park must be a real feast for those with time to do it justice. As for me, I'm looking forward to my next trip abroad, wherever and whenever that may be but in the meantime things are really kicking off here now and my macro lens has already had a number of successful outings, but more about that soon!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Beach Bird Birds Ocean Beach Photography Sanderling Shorebirds Snowy Plover Waders Whimbrel http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/california-dreamin-part-two Mon, 16 May 2016 19:50:57 GMT
California Dreamin': Part One http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/california-dreamin-part-one I've just returned from a truly memorable trip to the USA, spending two weeks spread across Las Vegas (Nevada), Santa Rosa and San Francisco (both California) and whilst the main reason for the trip was a friend's stag do and wedding, I did manage a little bit of wildlife watching along the way. Suffice to say I managed to rack up a good number of lifers and we had some amazing encounters! Vegas was a whirlwind of bright lights, walking the strip and enjoying the craziness of a mental city with wildlife unsurprisingly sparse. Santa Rosa was a different world and my first taste of American bird life and that's where I'll start.

We arrived at about 7pm on Friday 29th April and as we walked across the car park to the hotel I saw my first dark eyed junco singing its heart out on top of a small tree. Once settled in to our room we had a look at a map of the town and decided to spend the next day (at least the first half, pre-wedding) exploring the local area. We were situated close to a local park so I was hoping that might prove fruitful for a few new birds.

The day dawned bright and surprisingly warm and after a steak breakfast we got out and began investigating the quaint town of Santa Rosa. The pace of life was a welcome relief after the dizzying glitz and glam of Las Vegas and it was nice to potter along quiet streets in beautiful warm sunshine. On entering the park the first bird we saw was an anna's hummingbird. Wow! I'd not seen a hummingbird until that moment and I was blown away by its speed and aerial prowess. Sadly it was too far away for pics but what a start! Seconds after it zipped off I noticed a dark bird under a nearby tree which moved into the light to reveal a stunning flash of blue. A stellar's jay. Another wow moment! Another jay soon dropped down from a nearby tree onto the grass in pursuit of a butterfly. Unsuccessful, it started investigating some string that was close-by and clearly liked what it had found as it picked it up before it hopped away into the undergrowth.

Stellar's JayStellar's Jay A scan around the rest of the park revealed a number of other new birds for me including mourning dove and, the one that got me really excited, a handful of american robins. When these turn up in the UK it's a big deal so to see them in the flesh was fantastic. An even bigger bonus was the fact that they were fairly confiding though they refused to move from the shade of the many overhanging tress meaning the light was a bit hit and miss. 

American RobinAmerican Robin The following day, with a slightly fuzzy head, we headed South to San Francisco by car. A very long drive with some enticing looking habitat passed, with plenty of unidentified raptors seen as well as a few red-winged blackbirds. A tiring day but the next few days promised much!

We'd talked previously about hiring bikes at some point during our five days in San Francisco and decided there was no time like the present so chose to do this early on to get our bearings of the city. What a day we had! I've no idea how many miles we travelled but we went from Union Square and headed West, travelling through the incredible Golden Gate Park before exiting onto the impressive but heaving Ocean Beach. We then headed up to the Presidio National Park, passing the Lincoln Memorial before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and ending our journey with a ferry crossing back to the city from Sausilito. I cannot recommend doing this enough if you ever visit San Francisco as we saw an incredible amount in the one day and despite initial reservations about cycling in a huge city, we had nothing to worry about thanks to a superb cycling infrastructure. 

In terms of wildlife seen during our day biking, it was a long list but the birds that stick in my mind are loads of american robins, allen's and anna's hummingbirds, ring-billed duck, chestnut-backed chickadee, brown pelican, caspian tern, tree swallow, pied-billed grebe and common grackle. I didn't really do much bird photography as we were pretty much always on the bikes and when we weren't we were taking in the stunning scenery.

The following day we had a trip out to Alcatraz booked. The weather was again fantastic and we had another brilliant day taking in the sights. Alcatraz isn't a huge place but it has an intriguing history not to mention features heavily in one of my favourite films (The Rock) so we spent longer than expected strolling around, listening to an audio tour and taking silly cell-based selfies. The island is though an important breeding area for a number of bird species including brandt's cormorant, snowy egret, western gulls and black-crowned night heron. All were welcome ticks though harsh light meant photography was tricky so no real standout images from that day though a wind-blown snowy egret made for something slightly interesting and the day was a wonderful experience.

Snowy EgretSnowy Egret

As we'd cycled through the huge Golden Gate Park at a rate of knots during our 'bike day' we wanted to see more of it so spent most of Tuesday 3rd May walking through the park from Ocean Beach. We got the Muni-Metro from Union Square out to the coast and upon getting to the beach I couldn't help but have a quick scan for waders. It was a Tuesday morning and fairly cool and cloudy so the beach was almost deserted, at least in terms of humans. The same couldn't be said for waders and I immediately picked up on whimbrel, sanderlings and marbled godwits - a wonderful mix. Sadly I wasn't able to spend any significant time here as we had the whole park to navigate but I made a promise I would be back! During the rest of the day we tried to see as many areas as possible and as we were on foot I had a little more opportunity to get the camera out with some decent results and some incredible moments. The polo pitch was alive with birds including barn swallows hawking low over the grass and black phoebe's hunting from the perimeter fencing and hedgerows. A few american coots were seen on the smaller ponds as were countless mallards and canada geese. A number of american robins were also making the most of the well watered grass both on and around the pitch, with a very friendly individual present resulting in my favourite american robin image of the trip. I led down on the grass to get my much favoured eye-level perspective and slowly shuffled forward, stopping up to get a nice bokeh to isolate the bird from both the foreground and background.

American RobinAmerican Robin Stow Lake was fairly quiet with the resident ring-necked duck a little far out for pics as was a pied-billed grebe. A western-scrub jay was stunning bird to see and on walking around the lake I saw my first great-blue heron which garnered concern by a pair of idiots who flushed it to 'make sure it could still fly' as it was very close to a road. They did this by driving their car at it at speed leaving pedestrians rather shocked. We walked on baffled by what we'd seen.

Then came one of those moments that makes this hobby so worthwhile and epitomises the 'right place at the right time' saying. We'd not walked more than 50 metres before we spotted another great-blue heron, albeit a smaller individual, which was again very close to the road and being admired but passers-by no more than a few feet away. I was immediately hopeful of some decent close-ups which I duly got nice and quickly. The audience continued to enjoy the show with passing cars stopping to enjoy this natural spectacle and I had a break and just watched. The heron seemed to be on the hunt but was nowhere near the water. Its target soon became apparent and I was thankfully ready for what happened next. As quick as a flash, the heron stabbed the earth and came up with a gopher impaled on its bill. Wow! It took a few steps forward and then swallowed the gopher whole. We could not believe we'd been lucky enough to see this. I then got chatting to a local bird photographer who just arrived and he suggested the gophers deemed themselves safe when people were about and that the herons had picked up on this, taking advantage of our presence to secure an easy meal. Nature at its finest and something we'll never forget.

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron The rest of the day went as quick as a flash with hummingbirds, jays, a spotted sandpiper, a pair of downy woodpeckers, more red-winged blackbirds and even more american robins seen, with the most confiding bird of the trip so far found and photographed. They really are mighty tidy birds and I loved being able to get so close to such a cool bird.

American RobinAmerican Robin The walk didn't disappoint and was surprisingly action packed as we met a baby skunk followed shortly after by another gopher spearing great-blue heron. Bonkers! The skunk was fairly tame but I got too close a few times and it took a defensive pose threatening to unleash its famous weapon but thankfully things didn't go that far.

That's all for now but I'll be doing a follow-up post shortly to cover an amazing morning on Ocean Beach with just my camera gear and thousands of waders for company!

As always, thanks for reading!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Alcatraz American Robin Birds California Golden Gate Park Nature Photography San Francisco Wildlife http://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/california-dreamin-part-one Tue, 10 May 2016 19:02:29 GMT