Dave Collins Photography: Blog https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog en-us (C) Dave Collins Photography (Dave Collins Photography) Fri, 14 Aug 2020 09:20:00 GMT Fri, 14 Aug 2020 09:20:00 GMT https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/img/s/v-12/u365647858-o270129799-50.jpg Dave Collins Photography: Blog https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog 97 120 My Incredible Dad https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/8/my-amazing-dad It breaks my heart to write that on Thursday 16th July 2020, my incredible Dad, Andy, passed away peacefully at home.

As a family, we were informed in mid-June that Dad had advanced terminal cancer - news that was incredibly hard to process and a huge shock to us all. We were very lucky to be able to visit him in hospital soon after and a week later we got Dad home in time for his birthday and Fathers Day. Over the following weeks we all got to spend some quality time with Dad before he very sadly passed.

Dad was my inspiration for getting into wildlife, with countless days spent out with him exploring and looking for insects, birds, reptiles and mammals. I can recall childhood memories of walking with Dad through the gorse on Cleeve Hill, with adders seemingly everywhere. We even caught one on one occasion, taking it home to study in a large tank, before carefully releasing it the next morning. We'd make annual trips to the canal with a bucket for frogspawn, which we'd also take home, with a water-filled tank ready and waiting. I'd spend hours and hours watching the tadpoles gradually change into frogs and I'll never forget one year in particular when we released hundreds of tiny frogs under cover of darkness at the canal. I remember one night when Dad arrived home with a bunch of Willowherb which we thought was for mum. It wasn't until he turned the flowers around and revealed a stunning Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar eating the leaves that we realised it was for us to rear. We'd go to Slimbridge, we'd draw birds and generally be alert to wildlife wherever we went.

Into my teens, my interest in the natural world cooled, with other interests taking over. I then went to University before getting more into football and then golf. Meanwhile, Dad was still off out and about and I always asked what he'd been seeing. I then got into photography and quite by accident one evening found a Southern Hawker dragonfly when out with my camera. This moment reignited my passion for wildlife and I was soon upgrading my kit and spending more and more time out and about with Dad, like we used to. We'd often meet up on Rodborough Common, Cleeve Hill, Daneway Banks and in the autumn/winter months, Slimbridge or the Cotswolds for owls. I have so many memories to cherish of Dad and those places in particular will always be very, very special to me.

By far the most memorable experience we had together was a week in the Dordogne region of France in June of 2016 (posts about that trip here and here). We spent an entire week getting up early, looking for and shooting butterflies all day, eating good food and generally having a great time.

Here are a couple of shots of Dad doing what he loved.

My heart has a hole in it now that will never be filled or fixed but that hole will be a constant source of magical memories that I'll forever treasure. I am so lucky to have had such an inspirational and loving Dad and I will miss so much about him, especially this infectious smile and ability to make me laugh so easily. I will miss telling him what I saw on a day out and hearing him tell me what he'd seen recently, and I will dearly miss those days out and about together.

I will however continue to explore the natural world and will continue to share my photos and ramblings here and I'll be forever grateful to a wonderful man for showing me how special and valuable nature is.

Thank you, Dad.

x

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(Dave Collins Photography) https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/8/my-amazing-dad Fri, 14 Aug 2020 09:17:07 GMT
Adonis Blues https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/6/adonis-blues I recently decided to dedicate a bit of my free time to photographing Adonis Blue butterflies (Polyommatus Bellargus) that can be found at a number of sites locally and opted for an evening walk around the wonderful Barnsley Warren SSSI in the Cotswolds; a location I've been to a few times before but always later on in the butterfly season for Chalkhill Blues. With the weather relatively calm (albeit very warm) I was hoping to find these beautiful butterflies going to roost with the aim of taking advantage of the final moments of light as the sun set. I arrived at around 7pm and almost immediately observed a couple of adult hares and a younger individual, feeding along the field margins ahead of me. They soon disappeared for cover as I made my way towards the main slopes of the reserve. Yellowhammers and Skylarks filled the air with their song and with very little traffic noise from the nearby Fosse Way, the atmosphere was very peaceful indeed. A Red Kite drifted effortlessly through the valley at head height, though soon ascended and banked away, with another hare darting across the track in front of me. I don't know why I'd not made a visit here sooner as it's a wonderful place with an abundance of wildlife. 

Before long, I was making my way down a gradual slope and began scanning the grasses and flowerheads for butterflies. Within a few minutes I found a very fresh female Adonis Blue roosting low to the ground. Great to see so soon and this provided reassurance that I was in the right place. Over the course of the next hour or so, I found in the region of ten males and three female Adonis Blues, along with a single Common Blue and a handful of Small Heaths. There was a bit of a breeze by now but I managed to get a number of shots, though only the females remained in situ, with the males very skittish. It was a lot warmer than I was expecting, so the butterflies clearly had enough energy to remain active, even as the sun began to set.

Adonis BlueAdonis Blue

As the light began to fade, the colour of the background grasses changed from a yellow hue to a more orange tone, providing the following images with a little more warmth.

Adonis BlueAdonis Blue Adonis BlueAdonis Blue

I wanted to get a few backlit images too with the following the best of the bunch. This female was found on a piece of Salad Burnet and was angled in such a way that was shooting upwards (with a slope above me in the background), allowing me to avoid the background vegetation and achieve a clutter free bokeh that takes my eye.

Adonis BlueAdonis Blue

I enjoyed a slow walk back to car and enjoyed a brilliant sunset which painted the sky a pastel pink.

I decided to return first thing the following morning with the aim of getting some shots of the males and given the position of the sun as it rises across the reserve, I was hopeful of some decent images and as importantly, a few hours of serene peace.

My alarm was set for 5am but I was somehow wide awake by 4:35 so wasted no time in grabbing my kit and heading out. The drive was super quick, with not a single car seen and I arrived just as the sun climbed over the horizon. I'm by no means a landscape photographer but couldn't resist a few photos using my phone to capture the scene.

The hares were present again though were, unsurprisingly, rather timid and departed at speed when they became aware of my presence. The ever present Yellowhammers and Skylarks were in full voice and I felt as if I hadn't been away. 

The butterflies were relatively easy to find (I told myself I had my eye in now) and I was set up and shooting away in no time, though the light wasn't yet quite right for the shots I had in mind. Whilst I waited for the sun to illuminate the slopes opposite me, a mewing Buzzard made its way towards me at very low altitude. I was expecting it to notice me and move away but instead it dropped a little lower and glided directly overhead, giving me incredible views as it gave me a good once over. Stunning and something that would of course never happen when the big lens is out!

The light that followed was absolutely brilliant and just what I was hoping for. With the slopes bathed in early morning golden light and very little wind, I was able to have a good play around with settings to optimise things and was very pleased with the results. I moved along one of the main paths that disects the bank and found plenty of butterflies in nice positions and my favourites are below:

Adonis BlueAdonis Blue Adonis BlueAdonis Blue Adonis BlueAdonis Blue

Once the sun had crested the top of the slope I was on, the butterflies took almost immediate advantage of the heat and opened their wings to warm up. Sadly the males were off before I was able to get close but a female Adonis Blue did stay still long enough for me to get an opened-wing shot.

Adonis BlueAdonis Blue

A very enjoyable few hours but by this point it was already feeling very hot and with a rumbling stomach and a need for caffeine, I made my way home feeling revitalised thanks to the natural world.

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(Dave Collins Photography) Adonis Blue Barnsley Warren SSSI Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Cotswolds Dave Collins Dave Collins Photography Gloucestershire Macro Macro Photography Nature Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/6/adonis-blues Thu, 11 Jun 2020 15:36:32 GMT
Redstarts https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/6/redstarts The natural world has so much to offer during the spring months that it can often be hard to know where to look. Migrant birds arrive from afar after a lengthy and exhausting journey to begin their quest to pair up and rear their next generation, whilst the first butterflies of the year begin to emerge. My local patch, Cleeve Hill, is no exception to this and I've often gone out to look for something specific in mind only to be distracted by something else. During a recent morning walk to look for Small Blues and Duke of Burgundy, this very thing happened, when I was lucky to see a few singing Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus). These stunning migratory birds have always excited me and until now proved quite tough to photograph so I was immediately wondering if this might change with breeding birds close to home. I spent a good 15 minutes watching one particular bird before losing sight of it so carried on with my walk. Just a few minutes later I emerged from some woodland only to see another Redstart ahead of me on the fencing adjacent to the footpath I was following. I noticed it had a beak full of food so decided to sit down on the bank next to the path and watch from a distance. It flew into a crack in a nearby tree, giving away the location of its nest. A female then flew in and I enjoyed at least 30 minutes observing the pair as they made continual forays for food for their chicks. I left them to it but noticed a good spot that would provide plenty of cover and decided to return with my baghide the following day. To cut a long story short, I has some amazing views of the Redstarts (both oblivious to my presence as they carried on bringing in food), but none of the photos came out well so I gave up rather than risking anything that would potentially disturb them. What might've been. Or so I thought...

About 10 days later I was back on the hill and could hear the call of the Redstarts but was very much in 'butterfly mode'. I found a very fresh Common Blue and set up to photograph this and was sat down with it for a good 40 minutes waiting for the light to improve. A movement in my peripheral vision caught my attention and I looked up to see a male Redstart on top of a small bush no more than 20 feet away. I had my macro lens etc all set up so no chance for decent photos but had a real burst of excitement when a female flew in. Both birds were pretty close and they dropped into the grass before flitting back up onto nearby bushes. They then disappeared into the trees to my left but were both back within a minute or two. This became routine so once I'd got my Common Blue shots (post to follow), I switched over to my 500mm lens. The next couple of hours were very special indeed. Both birds were incredibly confiding and I had an incredible time watching the pair catch insects, at times only a few feet away. Here are some of my favourite images from this magical encounter.

Common RedstartCommon Redstart

 

Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart

I sadly had to head home which curtailed my session but I left in a bouyant mood, elated by these wonderful birds. I was already thinking about when I could get back for more and only had to wait a few days.

I arrived nice and early before the heat picked up and immediately saw the male Redstart, though it didn't hang around and over the next hour I only saw it once more, with the female nowhere to be seen. I was wondering what was going on when the male returned and landed stupidly close to me on a bare branch, with a perfectly clear background. Unfortunately, this bold bird wasn't willing to show its face and it simply sat in front of me for a good 30 seconds but refused to give me that crucial head turn for a decent image. It was then off and it was at least another hour before I saw it again, albeit from a distance. My heart sank as I realised the previous session was a one off and a case of right place, right time. I decided to call it quits and made my way back up towards the car. I hadn't gone too far when I saw the female preening on a dead tree before then noticing the male catching insects from a blackthorn sapling. I watched it do this a few times and it dawned on me that perhaps the chicks from the nest had fledged and were slowly moving up the hill, with the parents continuing to feed them as they did so. I set myself up from a distance to observe initially but gradually made my way closer to the seemingly favoured perch. Everything was right - the position of the sun (at my back) combined with a nice clean background consisting of parched grasses. After a patient approach I was no more than 15 feet from the bush, and was ecstatic that the Redstart continued to use it as a perch. At one point it dropped down to no more than a foot away from my tripod leg! 

Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart I decided to see if a different perch would work so found a nearby branch on the ground and propped it up in the bush. I'd barely got back to my camera before the Redstart was sat on it watching me! I moved slightly closer once it had moved into the undergrowth to feed the fledglings before settling down and enjoying a few more visits. Quite simply an unforgettable moment. Common RedstartCommon Redstart Common RedstartCommon Redstart It made several more visits to the bush, sometimes before picking up prey and sometimes after, as shown below.

Common RedstartCommon Redstart Again, my time was up but what an absolutely incredible morning. The initial high of finding the male and the subsequent low when I realised they weren't around as they had been was eclipsed by the eventual views I had of the male. A brilliant bird that was very confiding indeed. I hope it sticks around as it provided some superb moments which I will struggle to better.

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(Dave Collins Photography) bird photography birds cleeve hill dave collins dave collins photography gloucestershire nature photography redstart wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/6/redstarts Thu, 04 Jun 2020 16:34:33 GMT
Butterfly Photography https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/butterfly-blues-no-more The 2020 butterfly season started some time ago and when the lockdown was announced my heart sank as I had big photography plans this year given I wouldn't be working for a spell. To add insult to injury, the spring weather has been better over the last few months than I can ever remember. Daily walks have been a welcome pick-me-up, with stacks of butterflies seen on the wing, and the sight of my first orange tips bouncing along a hedgerow lifted my spirits further. I've since taken a few photos on my phone in an attempt to satisfy my cravings but nothing beats being up at the crack of dawn and finding a dew-covered butterfly roosting on a lovely perch! On one particular walk, I found some favourable looking habitat for orange tips and green-veined whites so set an early alarm in the hope of a butterfly photography fix. Sadly, my hopes were dashed, with no butterflies found. I figured this year might just have to be forgotten.

A few days later on an evening dog walk around the local park, I noticed a number of white butterflies skirting along the edge of the woodland and a hedgerow nearby. I hadn't even considered this area but on closer inspection, I wondered if I might just be in luck as there was a good amount of cow parsley around. The following evening, we went out a little later and between kicking a football and dog walking, I had as good a scan as I could for any roosting butterflies. After about 15 minutes I came across a roosting green-veined white. At last! I just hoped it would still be around in the morning when I'd have my camera with me.

Up early to beat the heat and make the most of the golden hour, I soon found the green-veined white. However, my tripod and other bits and pieces were sadly stowed at my place so any photography would have to be done hand held. A challenge at the best of times but it's possible and I've managed before so I began making the most of the opportunity, shooting with the sun behind to start with before attempting some backlit images. All in all, a very enjoyable albeit short session.

Green-veined WhiteGreen-veined White Green-veined WhiteGreen-veined White

I decided I'd scan this area each time I went past and a few days later found a male and a female orange tip and another green-veined white going to roost so I was very encouraged and kept everything crossed that I could time my daily walk to allow a few photos to be taken. A few failed attempts followed but I did find a male orange tip very early one morning roosting on a dandelion head, which was a very nice reward for the searching I'd done.

Orange TipOrange Tip Orange TipOrange Tip

The first Duke of Burgundies, Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, Small Blues and Green Hairstreaks emerged in the weeks that followed I'm very lucky to live within walking distance of a brilliant site for these butterflies. I hadn't been expecting to see them this year but an unfortunate washing machine breakage meant I was back at mine earlier than expected. I spent a few very early mornings making the gruelling climb up the hill and the first was an abject failure with only a single Dingy Skipper found. Birds were a different story, with a stunning male Redstart seen singing, a Spotted Flycatcher hopping along a fenceline and a Ring Ouzel flushed from the gorse.

My second visit saw the first Small Blues of the year for me, with at least 50 found, made up of a single here and there but mainly groupings of 6 or 7+. I did find a few in nice accessible positions.

Small BlueSmall Blue Small BlueSmall Blue

My third morning visit started with another (or possibly the same) male Redstart singing its heart out atop a blackthorn bush. Conditions were pretty decent, with clear skies and the sun already feeling quite warm, though there was a bit of a breeze. I decided to check a different area this time around and was rewarded almost immediately with a super fresh looking Duke of Burgundy basking on the leaf of a Hazel tree sapling. A Green Hairstreak was also seen nearby, but it was the duke I decided to focus on initially.

It was soon off and I was surprised at how active it was given the time of day. That didn't last long though as in the half an hour or so I spent watching it, the weather changed dramatically, with thick cloud rolling in over the top of the hill, encouraged by an increasingly gusty wind. The temperature also dropped markedly and it was this that forced the duke down into the lower vegetation. I managed a few shots of it exploring a cowslip, before it moved into a more sheltered spot. Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy

I followed up with another early morning visit but was unable to find any roosting butterflies but on the way home when it was a lot warmer and very sunny, I found a few Duke of Burgundy butterflies on the wing and was very happy to get some images of a very fresh looking specimen which took a rest on a hazel leaf and very kindly spread its wings flat allowing for a fully sharp photo.

Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy At the time of writing, lockdown rules have been eased with outside time now unlimited so I have been taking advantage of this and have more images to share soon with these to included in my next few posts. Hopefully I'll be fully up to date soon!

As always, thanks for reading!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Dave Collins Duke of Burgundy Green-veined White Macro Macro Photography Nature Orange Tip Photography Small Blue Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/butterfly-blues-no-more Tue, 26 May 2020 10:43:01 GMT
Reed Buntings https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/reed-buntings If you read my previous post, you'll know that my lockdown photography had revolved mainly around the birds right outside the house and those seen on my daily walks (limited to Starlings at the time of writing the aforementioned post). Since then, I've continued enjoying photographing the resident robins and blue tits and have also been trying to get some more shots of the dazzling starlings. The former has gone well though the latter has proved somewhat of a disappointment. It's not all doom and gloom though as my daily walks have involved a little more exploration of the local area and this has resulted in the discovery of a few ponds not too far from home, one of which is tucked away and therefore very quiet, and is home to a number of reed buntings. These smart and vocal birds have never been too hard to find but for some reason I've never got any decent shots of them. During an evening walk, I found the buntings for the first time and was able to get relatively close without disturbing them. I didn't have my camera with me but a plan had formed in my mind, with the reed buntings my next 'project'. 

A few days later, I decided to visit the pond at sunrise, when it would (hopefully) be at its most peaceful with the light also at its best. The walk there was a great way to wake up, with clear skies and a refreshing chill in the air. The camera was packed and it wasn't long before I arrived. I sat down on the bank and enjoyed the dawn chorus, with a very vocal blackcap taking centre stage. A grey heron was either roosting or fishing and took flight a few minutes later before I saw my first reed bunting of the morning. It was a very smart male, in full breeding plumage, and it began singing as it gradullay climbed a reed stem. The stem was nicely isolated so I was able to position myself so that there was very little distraction in the frame.

Reed BuntingReed Bunting

It remained on the same stem for a good five minutes before dropping down into thicker vegetation, lost to view. I didn't have to wait long before I was again watching and listening to another male reed bunting, with this one a little further along the edge of the pond, but a lot closer in. A very slow approach allowed me to get within better range and after a bit of effort was able to get an angle that meant only the main perch was visible. I managed some pleasing images before sitting down and watching.

Reed BuntingReed Bunting Reed BuntingReed Bunting Reed BuntingReed Bunting Reed BuntingReed Bunting

This particular bird seemed very content perched where it was, and after a little more time I decided to move a little closer. Unfortunately I was too stealthy for my own good as I was about two feet from where I wanted to stop when a snipe flew up and called from pretty much under my foot. I'm not sure if the snipe was more scared than me but it made me jump out of my skin! Suffice to say, the reed bunting was also spooked so it was back to sitting and waiting for the next opportunity (and for my heart rate to return to normal). It was another male reed bunting (if not the same) that was next to pop up out of the vegetation and I was in the perfect place, with the rising sun now almost directly behind me, with the bird at close range in front of me. I simply had to remain still and adjust my monopod but just as I was about to take my first shot the reed bunting flew to another stem. Bad news because I'd have to get into position, good news because the perch looked like it was clutter free. I again moved slowly and quietly and I was soon snapping away with the bird completely unfazed by my presence. I had a very enjoyable few minutes with this super smart bird before another male appeared and a scrap between the two began. No shots of that sadly but below are a few of my favourites from this particular encounter.

Reed BuntingReed Bunting Reed BuntingReed Bunting Reed BuntingReed Bunting

Subsequent visits haven't proved quite as successful but nonetheless I have managed a few more images which I'm quite pleased with. Having had no reed bunting images a few weeks ago, I now have plenty!

Reed BuntingReed Bunting Reed BuntingReed Bunting Reed BuntingReed Bunting In all honesty just being out at sunrise has been the real reward with the dawn chorus a real lift and plenty of good birds seen. One thing that I'm still waiting for though is my first odonata. Not a single dragonfly or damselfly seen so far, despite the habitat looking ideal for them. I'm sure it won't be long though.

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Birds Bunting Nature Passerine Photography Reed Bunting Water birds Wildlife Wiltshire https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/reed-buntings Mon, 18 May 2020 17:24:19 GMT
Lockdown Photography https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/lockdown-photography I don't need to tell you that over the last few weeks, life has been turned upside down and inside out thanks to the Coronavirus. The government's decision to lockdown the country in order to slow the spread of the virus has coincided with the end of my previous contract, so my much anticipated break in order to focus on my photography has gone somewhat belly up. I've therefore had to concentrate any photography on wildlife around the house and around the local area. Whilst this is nowhere near as exciting as what I could've been doing, it has proved a lot of fun and thrown up a few challenges along the way....

Starting with the garden/outdoor area, I've got the fortune of a very large and long stretch of blackthorn right outside my partner's living room so this has been my initial focus. I put some feeders up a while back as there have always been a good number of birds moving about and feeding in the bushes and these attracted a number of species, namely robin, dunnock, wood pigeon, magpie, house sparrow, blue tit, great tit and long-tailed tit. The downside is the hedge is only a few metres away from the house, so any kind of clean background is impossible. This was challenge number 1. The solution was the bring a feeder onto the fence between the house and bushes, but again, this didn't help too much and shooting with a 500mm lens meant the birds were too large in the frame and I would also have to shoot through the window glass impacting image quality. This was challenge number 2, with the following an example (and not much of a crop at all): 

Blue TitBlue Tit

I therefore moved the feeder away from the house, on a part of the fence that gave me a line of sight from the living room window when it was open (removing the need to shoot through glass). It also meant the background was much further away too, resulting in a much cleaner background and providing more opportunity to compose my shots. The set-up was very basic, with a fatball feeder tied to the fence/railing, and a perch set-up nearby, as shown below:

This set-up is similar to one I've used when I've had a proper feeding station and hide in place and allows for easy adjustment in terms of position but also means perches can be quickly changed. Given the plentiful flowering blackthorn to hand, I used small branches to start with and had a bit of luck with a few shots.

Blue TitBlue Tit Blue TitBlue Tit

I then decided to switch to a perch found on a walk and after some minor tweaks it worked very well. Something to point out with the lighting on the images I've taken is that the perch has been in the shade for most of the day, with the background lit up by direct sunlight. Some over exposure to lift the birds out of shadow results in a lovely golden background and plenty of detail on the bird. Hand-holding my camera and lens hasn't been ideal but it has meant I've had at least some upper body excercise!

Blue TitBlue Tit

Blue TitBlue Tit Blue TitBlue Tit

The image (above) has been my favourite blue tit to date though I'm enjoying the ongoing challenge to improve on this.

A robin has also made occasional visits though these are often very brief, with the perch ignored, though I have managed to be at the window at the right time a few times.

RobinRobin RobinRobin More perches to come and hopefully the background colours will evolve as the vegatation begins to grow.

In addition to shooting from the comfort of the living room, I've started taking my camera out on our daily walks and only started doing this after finding a new area which has a decent population of starlings. From a distance, these noisy birds look very plain - almost black - but up close they are stunning creatures blessed with wonderfully iridescent plumage when adults. I've not spent much time at all getting images of these birds as the area they've been seen in is popular for dog walkers / walkers in general, so I've only grabbed a few shots when it's been quiet and the starlings have been down from the trees. Not much to show for my efforts but another mini 'project' I'll be pursuing. Here are a few of the shots I've managed so far:

StarlingStarling StarlingStarling StarlingStarling StarlingStarling

As much as I'm ruing what might've been (mainly the start of the butterfly season), it's been very enjoyable focusing on just a couple of common, everyday bird species. Everyday offers the chance to improve and who knows, there might be something a little more exciting to be seen tomorrow or the day after. If there isn't, I'll continue to be grateful that I have got some outdoor space to enjoy as many others will not be so fortunate.

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Birds Blue Tit Dave Collins Garden Birds Lockdown Photography Nature Photography Starling Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/lockdown-photography Mon, 04 May 2020 12:42:00 GMT
Successful Sparrawhawk https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/4/successful-sparrawhawk Wildlife photography can often involve a lot of planning. This can range from time spent researching and scoping out locations, setting up a feeding station, researching new equipment and techniques, planning trips, to biding time for the best weather conditions. It can also involve a bit of luck, primarily being in the right place at the right time. Whilst luck plays a part, you also need to be on alert and anticipate something happening. Most recently, I wasn't doing the latter, but a chance glance over my shoulder resulted in seeing a female sparrowhawk take out a pigeon right outside my house. I've seen a male and female sparrowhawk on and off since I've lived in my current home, with a few visits to the garden. These have involved the birds perching on the garden fence briefly and once being on prey on the lawn in the back garden. I've never come close to getting decent shots as more often than not before I've grabbed the camera the birds have moved on.

Fast forward to my latest encounter, which I assumed was another 'what might have been'. The sparrowhawk in question was unable to carry the pigeon it had killed and was almost immediately spooked, flying up into a nearby tree. It soon dropped down out of sight and behind some houses further down the road. Nevermind, but I made an effort on keeping my eye on the kill just in case the sparrowhawk came back. Indeed, not long after I happened to be outside tidying my boot when I noticed the sparrowhawk had indeed returned! It had moved its prey away from the road and was on the front lawn of the house opposite. I had my camera to hand so quickly unpacked it and took a few record shots. I decided to try and get a bit closer and it remained unfazed so I crept closer still. Again, no sign it was bothered but I backed off and watched. The strange man with a large lens clearly got attention as the neighbours over the road were soon at their window and they'd noticed what I was shooting and enjoyed a show from no more than a few feet a stunning raptor happily plucked and fed away beneath their window. 

By now, the sparrowhawk had moved under a small bush but this allowed me to use a tree as cover, and get a little closer. Once behind the tree, I led down and slowly moved out so that I had a clear view. The sparrowhawk continued to feed, occasionally looking up between tearing flesh from its prey. I took plenty of shots and was chuffed to finally see something like this with my own eyes.

SparrowhawkSparrowhawk SparrowhawkSparrowhawk After a bit of a pause just to observe, I crawled a little closer and repeated this process a few more times until I was just a few metres away. My heart was pounding by now and I was in my element...though what the neighbours must've thought I don't know!

SparrowhawkSparrowhawk SparrowhawkSparrowhawk SparrowhawkSparrowhawk

I considered a slight adjustment in my position but didn't get the chance as at that very moment the wildlife photographer's nemesis appeared from around the corner; the dreaded dog walker!! Seeing me led down on the pavement with a camera in my hand, I thought the man would kindly cross the empty street and carry on. No. Of course not. Apparently oblivious to me, he carried on and unsurprisingly spooked the sparrowhawk, forcing it into a hasty retreat. I bit my tongue and the dog walker seemed intent on avoiding eye contact, sadly missing out on my pee'd off glare. I'm fully aware that people are entitled to walk there they wish but sometimes I can't help people do these things on purpose. It's happened so many times and is one of biggest pet hates (no pun intended).

That aside, the few minutes I spent watching this awesome raptor were right up there as some of the best spent with a wild bird. I've always wanted to see this up close and am very grateful to have finally managed this. Nothing beats the rush of such a close encounter and I'm already day dreaming about the next one, whatever it may be. 

On a more downbeat note, these are extremely difficult times for so many people. I've often found myself feeling extremely frustrated and trapped by the social distancing restrictions and can't help but feel gutted to be missing out on so much photography. The lock down has coincided with the end of my a recent contract and whilst I was prepared for a break, I wasn't prepared to be stuck indoors. However, my feelings are nothing compared to those who are risking their lives on the front line in the fight against the horrible coronavirus that has swept across the globe. At the end of the day, that is what really matters. I'll be making do with the outdoor spaces available locally and have set up a mini feeding station and perches for photography from home, so will share some results soon. In the meantime, stay safe.

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Birds Dave Collins Gloucestershire Nature Photography Sparrowhawk Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/4/successful-sparrawhawk Mon, 27 Apr 2020 12:38:33 GMT
Worcestershire Waxwing https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/4/worcestershirewaxwing As a child, when I first got into birds and found myself trawling through the countless books I'd either borrowed from the library or been gifted, there were some species that jumped off the page and had me in awe of how they looked. These birds had some mystical quality that had me imagining what it would feel like to see them in the flesh. A few examples included golden eagle, hoopoe, kingfisher, golden oriole, green woodpecker, owls of all shapes and sizes, and the waxwing. The latter is a winter visitor to our shores, with flocks of them over-wintering in the UK, where they are infamous for appearing in supermarket car parks where one of their favourite food sources, the rowan berry, can be found in copious amounts on the decorative rowan trees.

I've seen waxwings twice before; both times in Gloucestershire and the latter a self-found flock. Unfortunately, my timing has always been poor so I've not really had a decent crack at getting them on camera. A solitary bird was reported in Worcestershire at the start of March but I paid no attention to it as assumed it would be a bit of a trek and with time at such a premium these days, I gave it no further thought. I later found out that it was only just over the border and not too far at all from home so I kept an eye on sightings and after seeing some fantastic images of it online, my interest was piqued. 

On a Friday afternoon, the weather was looking pretty decent and with the Waxwing still present, I decided to rush up after work in the hope it was still around and, ideally, feeding. Traffic was awful and it took a lot longer to arrive than expected but the light was still okay so I hurriedly parked up and made my way towards the level crossing, next to which is a single rowan tree on which the waxwing had been feeding. I couldn't really believe I was in the right place given the trees proximity to the train tracks and main road. A fellow photographer kindly shared the good news that the waxwing was still present and enjoying the berries on offer and I didn't have to wait long before it dropped down from a nearby tree and landed no more than 15 feet away. Wow! It was in a pretty good position so I began taking photos, sure to check settings between shots. I was on site for just over an hour and had an absolute blast. Watching a bird like this go about its business with not a care in the world is always a treat, so for it to be one of my favourite birds was really quite special.

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As usual with photography, there is always something that can be improved upon, and in this case it was the lack of blue sky. Saying that though, given the mad dash I had no right to complain and was just pleased that the Waxwing was present and affording such amazing views. Getting to spend time at such close quarters with such a stunning bird happens rarely so I made the most of just being there. Something that isn't captured in an image is the call which is something else I absolutely love about these birds.

A few days later and (at the time) rather annoyingly, I was wide awake at just gone 6am and simply couldn't get back to sleep. I had a very busy day ahead but didn't want to get out of bed for chores so had a peek outside to see what the weather was doing. The heavy rain and wind that had woken me earlier in the night was nowhere to be seen, with almost entirely clear sky all around. I decided on a spontaneous return to the waxwing, assuming it would still be present, so before sunrise I was in the car and heading North in the hope that the blue skies held. I wouldn't have too long to spend on site so everything was crossed for some luck. There wasn't a soul to be seen when I arrived so I parked up and again headed to the the favoured tree. After 15 minutes, mild panic was beginning to set in. Where was the waxwing?! Surely it hadn't moved on? I then heard the tell-tale trill before seeing anything and the relief was palpable as the waxwing came swooping in from behind me and landed right in front of me. Again, not a single care given for the fact that I was present and it soon began gorging on the remaining berries. I had it all to myself for a good hour with a visit every 10 minutes or so in some fabulous light.

WaxwingWaxwing WaxwingWaxwing WaxwingWaxwing WaxwingWaxwing On one occasion, it flew off to a small ash tree on the other side of the road and was nicely silhouetted by the sun behind it so I got all arty for something a little different.

Before long it was back again and I'd now been joined by a few more people, all enthralled by this lovely winter visitor.

WaxwingWaxwing WaxwingWaxwing When it comes to headshots, I just can't help myself and to have a waxwing so close, it was impossible not to go in for a tighter view. I simply cannot express how much I love these birds and the time spent with this particular one will live with me for a very long time indeed. 

As always, thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment. It's always good to know people actually read my ramblings!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Bird Photography Birds Bohemian Migrant Nature Photography Waxwing Wildlife Winter https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/4/worcestershirewaxwing Wed, 15 Apr 2020 13:51:57 GMT
Short-eared Owls https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/3/short-eared-owls Following my previous post which was dedicated to the local barn owls, I've had a little more time out and about and whilst the barn owls have continued to show well, I'm very pleased to say that the short-eared owls have also joined the party. With a keen eye on the weather, I've managed a few more hours out with my camera and have been rewarded with some exceptional views of our over-wintering visitors, including an incredible close-call with a very obliging individual. More on that later though.

The weather hasn't improved greatly since my last visit, though the heavy rain has eased, with just a strong wind remaining. This hasn't proved as bad as I thought it might for the owls, with plenty of sightings seen over the last week or so. I spent an afternoon onsite a few days ago and upon arriving was welcomed by a heavy shower, so I waited this out in the car, getting my gear ready. As soon as the shower blew through, I was out of the car and within a few seconds had a short-eared owl hunting not too far away, though it was travelling in the wrong direction for a photo! What happened next was one of those moments that makes wildlife photography so unpredictable and exciting. I noticed another short-eared owl, then another, followed by a barn owl. I had a quick scan behind my and there was yet another shortie up hunting. I turned back around and had three shorties and a barn owl in front of me, with one of the latter coming in at a nice angle and looking like it would give a very close flypast. I just about got it in the viewfinder before another bird came into frame, pushing the shortie away. It was a second barn owl! After a little mid-air melee, the barn owl popped back over the hedge where it must have come from, leaving the shortie to carry on hunting. Fortunately it didn't move too far off its original course and it gave a wonderful display as it glided past.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl
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Brilliant as always to see these birds up close and I was buzzing to have got a few photos, which is always a bonus. Just to see these owls is the real treat and the next 20 minutes or so was pretty chaotic, with owls all over the place. At times I didn't know where to look as they were hunting both in front and behind me. The wind was making things even more frantic as the owls were using the strong gusts to cover large distances in a matter of seconds. One such moment saw a barn owl catch a gust and head straight for the few of us who's been watching it. I had my camera on a monopod so tracking the incoming owl proved incredibly difficult and the few photos I managed saw clipped wings or were out of focus. The owl was hurtling towards us, gaining and losing height as it did so and I gave up trying to get any photos, assuming it would zoom straight past us. When it was no more than 20 feet away it dropped and incredibly, landed on a post. How it stopped so quickly I'll never know but I managed a quick couple of shots before it was off again. An amazing moment! Only one semi-decent shot worth sharing - just a shame about the head angle!

Barn OwlBarn Owl The rest of the afternoon saw activity die down gradually and opportunities for further photography didn't materialise so I simply enjoyed the fresh air and watching the owls at distance. Only one catch was seen and that was by a barn owl, so hopefully the shorties had similar luck when out of sight.

My subsequent visit was a lot quieter, with just one barn owl and one short-eared owl hunting for most of the time I was there. A second short-eared owl appeared a little later, but all three remained distant. Once the light had gone, I went for a slow drive up a couple of the lanes before heading home. I found one short-eared owl perched up but again, distant, but in the hope it may have moved closer to the road I'd be taking home, I carried on very slowly, scanning as I went. I noticed an unusual shape ahead, tucked down in the scrub alongside the road and it was only once I was almost next to it did I realise it was a short-eared owl perched on a bit of wood! Thankfully the camera was on the passenger seat so I eased the car to a stop, with the window down, and managed a few shots from the car. The owl seemed completely unfazed so I watched it for another minute before deciding to get out of the car and get a better angle. Over the next few minutes, I managed to get myself in a much better position, with my lens resting on a fencepost. The owl simply sat there, watching me. A bonkers moment but as always, I has something to complain about, that being it was by now pretty much completely dark! I was shooting at ISO 3200, handheld in strong wind, and my shutter speed was a paltry 1/50 second. Awful conditions but a few images came out just about okay, though not if you're a pixel peeper who likes to view things at full size. Below are the shots that just about made the cut, though I'll admit I'm more than happy how they look on screen, given how little light I had to play with!

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

Subsequent visits provided plenty more sightings, though photographic opportunities haven't been as good but no complaints whatsoever as it's been reassuring to see that a good number of owls have survived this long and continue to hunt. It won't be long at all until the short-eared owls head north so here's wishing them a safe flight and successful breeding season!

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(Dave Collins Photography) asio flammeus bird photography cotswolds gloucestershire nature owls photography short-eared owl wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/3/short-eared-owls Sun, 08 Mar 2020 13:25:52 GMT
Barn Owls https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/2/barn-owls It's been too long since my last post and to be honest it's been equally as long since I've had a chance to get out on a regular basis with my camera. Over the last few weeks though, despite some atrocious weather here in Gloucestershire, I have managed a few sessions, which have produced some wonderful moments and a few photos to boot.

My targets have been the over-wintering and ever popular short-eared owls and the local barns owls. The former have proved very tricky this winter, hunting at a distance and no doubt wary of the paparazzi-like attention they draw. The latter though have proved quite the opposite and I've had two successful outings and both times have had these beautiful birds all to myself.

The first was during a very cold and frosty morning a few weeks ago. I was onsite before sunrise and was beaten to it by an already hunting barn owl which I could see from a distance on my way to my usual spot. I didn't have to wait long before it made a speedy flypast at close range, in some fantastic light. Unfortunately I was a little slow off the mark but managed a few keepers, my favourite of which is below:

Barn OwlBarn Owl I followed this up last week with a quick visit before work and left the house under clear skies hopeful of a repeat performance. However, the closer I got the location, the foggier it got. I arrived to a full-on 'pea souper' and despite giving it a chance to burn off, returned home with not a single bird seen...unless a blackbird counts...

My most recent visit followed Storm Dennis and despite the conditions still being on the breezy side, the light was relatively good and it was dry, so I hoped the owls would be up and about making the most of the better weather. I had a half hour or so of waiting before a barn owl appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Thankfully I was ready, having been checking my settings every now and again, and the owl took its time as it made its way towards me, hunting into the wind. 

Barn OwlBarn Owl Barn OwlBarn Owl I was dreading it suddenly banking away from me but my luck was in and it continued to come closer.

Barn OwlBarn Owl

...and closer still.... Barn OwlBarn Owl

The highlight was the moment it banked slightly towards me, giving a brilliant display of its markings as it ghosted past. An amazing few seconds and well worth sacrificing a gym session for!

Barn OwlBarn Owl

The barn owl continued to hunt until dusk but didn't come within camera range until the light had gone, when it flew almost directly overhead, something that has happened a few times before! I took that as my cue to pack up and get back home into the warm. The drive home saw another barn owl perched momentarily on a roadside post before it took flight and a few minutes later the heavens opened once more. 

Hopefully more to come over the coming weeks. Let's just hope the weather relents and these magical birds are able to hunt and feed successfully ready for their breeding season.

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(Dave Collins Photography) Barn Owl Bird Photography Birds Cotswolds Dave Collins Photography Gloucestershire Nature Owls Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/2/barn-owls Mon, 17 Feb 2020 19:32:06 GMT
Fritillary Fever https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/7/fritillary-fever If you happen to be a regular reader you might be aware that my luck with Dark Green Fritillaries hasn't been great. For years I've been looking for roosting individuals and I had a great moment last year when I found one just as I was about to head home after a fruitless few hours. This year started very well with two very fresh fritillaries found at the start of July but since then I've fallen back into the doldrums with none found since. That was the case until Wednesday evening when I found at least five butterflies going to roost in the early evening. A painfully early morning followed and whilst I found a few of the same butterflies roosting, it was incredibly humid and very windy. An awful combination as the butterflies were in no mood to stay still and couldn't if they wanted too! I gave up with photography and found a few more specimens so at least my eye was in. To add insult to injury, it began to piddle down so I made a hasty retreat home for coffee and breakfast.


The following day I decided to have another go for a few hours before work. On opening the curtains, I was greeted with leaden skies and what looked like a fairly strong breeze. I so nearly opted for a few hours more sleep but fought the urge to climb back under my duvet and headed out. I hadn't been on site for more than 10 minutes before I found my first roosting Dark Green Fritillary, tucked under a knapweed flowerhead. Moments later, I found yet another, this one in a much more approachable and photogenic position. It looked relatively pale and I assume this was due to it losing it's colouring over time. Weather-wise, it was very grey with a bit of a breeze and it wasn't long before it began to lightly rain. 

I left this one to it after a bit and decided to try my luck elsewhere and as hinted at in the title of this post, I soon stumbled upon yet another Dark Green Fritillary and this one looked super fresh! I got set-up and after a few minutes the weather took a turn for the worst and it began raining fairly heavily. I gave serious thought to packing up and making a run for it but given how much time I'd invested in looking for these butterflies over the years I couldn't let this opportunity pass so I persevered. Over the next hour or so the rain eventually passed and whilst things didn't brighten up, there were moments when the wind dropped and I had a brilliant session with plenty of images obtained. Below are my favourites and despite being really pleased with these, I STILL had that yearning to get out again for more, hopefully with better light...

Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary

Come Sunday morning, I'd decided to have another session with the fritillaries and the forecast was a lot better so I set off to the usual spot under clear skies. It was nice and cool with a nice dew blanketing the grasses and flowers and just a light breeze so I was hopeful of some slightly different shots. My eye is obviously in this year (or there are a lot more butterflies about) as I found three roosting fritillaries within just a few minutes of searching, all covered in dew though some more sheltered than others, with the following phone image an example of one.

I loved how much dew was on this one so carefully got set up and managed to just about get my tripod in a position that allowed a nice clean background (with some rogue grasses stems pinned back). I opted to go for super detail and went nice and close on the head of the butterfly, giving the following image.

Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary During the next 90 minutes or so I found numerous others at roost, with some appearing out of nowhere on flowerheads I'd already checked, so I can only assume they were waking up and climbing out of the undergrowth as things warmed up. I'd really hoped to get a roosting fritillary against some sunlit grasses in the background but it wasn't to be sadly, as the temperate soon had the butterflies active. Here are a few of the shots I did manage, albeit of a similar tone to those captured previously. The dew does add a nice touch though, so I won't complain!

Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary At around 9am, Dad joined me and we decided to have a walk around the Prestbury Hill reserve before heading over to Lineover Woods in search of Silver-Washed Fritillary and White Admiral. We'd not gone far before we noticed a stunning Silver-washed Fritillary nectoring on the brambles next to the path. So much for needing to go elsewhere! It moved about a fair bit but it eventually landed nice and close although I had no chance of getting a shot with my camera due to the angle it was at. I'd taken delivery of a new phone a few days prior so decided to give that a go and it performed brilliantly, allowing me to get nice and close and get pretty much every part of the butterfly in focus. The below shot is unedited and uncropped.

Silver-washed FritillarySilver-washed Fritillary

We then carried on, with Dad finding a cracking Emperor dragonfly on the path. A real beauty but it didn't hang around. A few more Silver-Washed Fritiallaries were seen and by now it was very warm so nothing was settling. The camera remained packed away but it was great to see everything buzzing about, with a lovely male Chalkhill Blue of note, along with numerous sightings of the usual suspects, including 10+ Dark Green Fritillaries.

We then decided to move on to Lineover Woods and spent a good couple of hours exploring the southern half of the reserve. Plenty of Silver-Washed Fritillaries seen (no decent pics sadly) but no White Admirals and no hairstreaks (which would've been a bonus) but a great walk all the same with some stunning views.

Here's Dad enjoying the view after an unpleasant and steep climb!


A very enjoyable morning and some more pleasing images added to my galleries. It's been a very good month for my local butterflies and I'll be doing my big butterfly count when I'm next out and about. Next on the list for some photography will be Chalkhill Blues. Here's hoping they too have a good year and are out in force in the weeks to come.

 

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Cleeve Hill Dark Green Fritillary Dave Collins Gloucestershire Macro Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/7/fritillary-fever Mon, 22 Jul 2019 14:19:04 GMT
More Butterflies https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/7/more-butterflies Just a short post by way of an update on my current butterfly photography project. Over the last few days I've had a bit more free time than normal which has coincided with working from home so I've taken full advantage of both and have been out before and after work, mainly in search of more Dark Green Fritillaries. Sadly, my luck from earlier in the week seems to have run out, with only three seen over three visits, all flying around at break neck speed. Time out with the camera is rarely in vain though and I've managed to get some shots of a number of species that I would perhaps have neglected previously. Below are a few of my favourites.

First up, this Meadow Brown remained remarkably still. Whilst extremely common, they are more often than not extremely flighty and therefore difficult to photograph. Taken early evening, the light was very nice indeed and created a lovely warm bokeh.

Meadow BrownMeadow Brown

Next is the Ringlet. Another common butterfly that can also be quite skittish when approached. This one was found roosting first thing in the morning so not too energetic and I was therefore able to get set up and get some pics.

RingletRinglet
My Marbled White addiction shows no signs of abating, with hundreds of these summer butterflies currently in flight on Cleeve Hill. I found countless butterflies in great positions for photography but one on a flowerhead caught my attention with some lovely early morning sunlight bringing the images to life.

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It wasn't long before the butterflies were taking in the warmth of the morning sun, with the grasses and flowers littered with basking butterflies. It would have been rude not to make the most of the posing.

Marbled WhiteMarbled White

A nearby Common Blue was next to catch my eye and despite their first brood season coming to an end, this male looked relatively fresh. A nice contrast of blue against green and I opted for a more minimalist shot for a change.

Common BlueCommon Blue

I was then back to the Marbled Whites, with one in a very accessible position allowing a head on shot, again allowing for something slightly different.

Marbled WhiteMarbled White All in all, a good few visits though I won't deny that the lack of roosting fritillaries was a big disappointment. Still, you can't have it all and life would be very boring if everything was in place all of the time. It just means I'll have to go back....

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Cleeve Hill Gloucestershire Macro Marbled White Nature Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/7/more-butterflies Fri, 05 Jul 2019 16:06:36 GMT
Dark Green Fritillaries https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/7/dark-green-fritillary Over the last couple of weeks I've made several visits to Cleeve Hill - mainly the Masts Reserve - in search of the stunning Dark Green Fritillary butterfly. On each and every occasion I've arrived in an optimistic mood and on each and every occasion I've returned home dejected. I'll be honest, the last few visits have suggested I've been a little early, despite my target being reported elsewhere in the UK. My indicators have been the amount of Knapweed in flower (not a lot) and the number of Marbled Whites seen (hardly any). These factors have made me wonder if the location I'm pinning my hopes on is a little behind. Well, this morning, at the crack of dawn, I was up on the hill again and this time I found stacks of Marbled Whites and a lot more Knapweed flowering. Both good signs. Not so good was the weather. AGAIN. The breeze was very strong indeed and as soon as I arrived my heart sank as I knew there'd be no shelter given the direction of the wind and even if I did find anything worthwhile shooting, photography would be a nightmare. Still, I was here so made the best of things with a good look around and my fingers and toes crossed.

As mentioned, what really jumped out was the number of Marbled White butterflies found roosting. They were everywhere, though as usual, pretty much all of them were males. I had a thorough search for fritillaries on the upper half of the reserve before dropping down to the lower slopes. I was soon very cold and the wind was showing no sign of letting up. I did find a pair of Marbled Whites roosting up together which would've made for a very nice shot but they were being blown left right and centre. I honestly think I'd have had more success trying to photograph one of my own farts. A couple of very smart bee orchids lifted the spirits before I headed back up to the top half of the reserve. The sun was now climbing higher and this was good news in a way as it meant a good number of butterflies were beginning to open their wings and bask. If there were any Dark Green Fritillaries in the vicinity then I had a good chance of spotting them, with their very bright and sizeable orange wings likely to stand out in the grasses.

It hadn't been long before I struck gold orange! In amongst some long grass, wings wide open, was my first Dark Green Fritillary of the year. I got a massive buzz seeing this beauty and on closer inspection it looked very fresh indeed. On even closer inspection it wasn't alone! Just a few inches away on a dead flowerhead was another pristine individual at roost. My assumption is they had recently emerged together. I wasted no time in getting set up and opted for the roosting butterfly first as it was in a pretty good position. The bugger was, predictably, the wind. What a pain! It was just non-stop and photography was immensely frustrating so I really was shooting in the hope that a few frames would be salvageable. Thankfully they were, with a couple below. Same butterfly, same position, with some variance in lighting (one taken in the sun, one in shadow)

Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary

These are without doubt one of my favourite butterflies. Beautiful things. I think the elusiveness of them makes them even more special as they are often so hard to find.

The first butterfly I'd found had sadly moved on so no open wing shots but the one I was shooting seemed quite docile so I very carefully moved it onto a nearby knapweed flowehead for something a bit different.

Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary

The sun was surprisingly warm now and my subject soon took to the air and flew powerfully away before settling again low down and opening its wings to heat up. I watched it for a few minutes before noticing another fritillary basking close by and this one was a little higher up and easier to photograph. It was getting a buffeting from the wind but posed long enough for a few shots before it moved on to a more sheltered spot lower down in the grass.

Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary

Another early alarm call that had paid off and I returned home very happy to have got off the mark but also quite frustrated that the weather had been such a hindrance. It looks like things will be calmer later on in the week so I shall be back for more and will hopefully get another go at shooting these awesome butterflies at close quarters!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Cleeve Hill Dark Green Fritillary Gloucestershire Macro Macro Photography Nature Nikon D500 Photography https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/7/dark-green-fritillary Mon, 01 Jul 2019 12:35:58 GMT
Marbled Whites https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/6/marbled-whites On the evening of Friday 21st June I went over to Stroud to visit my parents and wish my Dad a very happy birthday. After dinner we decided to go for a walk around Swift's Hill, near Slad. This is a little gem of a place with some stunning views down the valley into Stroud and it also happens to be a great place for wildlife, with wildflowers and butterflies in abundance. We parked in the main layby and walked along the lower slopes before entering the wood at the end and coming back out across the top of the reserve. It was a brilliant few hours with lots seen, and the main highlight being the number of Marbled White butterflies seen. We found a couple of relatively large groups with one of these containing 11 individuals all nectoring on a some bramble flowers. It wasn't a large bush either and was therefore a very impressive sight. We also saw plenty of Common and Small Blues, a few Brown Argus, Meadow Browns, Large Skippers and Small Heaths. An Emperor Dragonfly also came to investigate us, gliding around at close quarters before disappearing.

By the time we'd reached the top of the reserve the sun had lost its strength and the butterflies were settling down to roost. This was when we should've counted as there were so many Marbled Whites on the long grasses, some alone, others in groups of 3 or 4. They were all extremely fresh too with the vast majority males. The breeze was a bit of a pain as it made photography very difficult but we did manage to find a few very impressive looking females, one of which was particularly obliging. Dad kindly cast a shadow over the butterfly to bring out more details which would otherwise have been lost in the still harsh sunlight.

Marbled WhiteMarbled White

Dad and I continued back down towards the car where the number of butterflies dropped but it had been a very pleasant few hours. We always have a good time together and it's great that we have a shared passion for nature. Dad is the one who got me into wildlife when I was little so it's him I have to thank for opening up the natural world to me.

The following morning, I decided to get up super early and spend a few hours on Cleeve Hill, with my second main target of the summer in my sights. The Dark Green Fritillary. I arrived just before 6am and it was a stunning morning. Clear skies and a very light breeze. To cut a long story short my search for fritillaries ended in failure, despite covering a lot of ground, but I did think I was probably a week or so early. I didn't leave until the sun was well up, and plenty of butterflies were on the wing, so if they had been out I'm confident I would've at least caught a glimpse of them zipping about at break-neck speed. One thing that did surprise me (given the previous evening) was the lack of Marbled Whites, with only a few males found roosting. They did pose nicely but I would've expected more by now. Perhaps a little early for this site? Hopefully that as opposed to them having a bad year but I'm sure that will become clearer over the coming weeks. Below are a few images of the males found.

Marbled WhiteMarbled White Marbled WhiteMarbled White Marbled WhiteMarbled White  

As always, good to get out but not quite what I was after so more searching needed over the coming weeks. Fingers crossed one of these visits pays off! Watch this space!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Conservation Butterfly Photography Gloucestershire Macro Marbled White Nature Photography https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/6/marbled-whites Thu, 27 Jun 2019 13:52:53 GMT
Large Blues https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/6/large-blues As mentioned in my previous post, I'd been getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunity to get out with my camera as a result of the depressing weather we've been experiencing of late, so on Saturday morning of the weekend just gone I vowed to get out whilst I could and went off in search of Large Blues at Daneway Banks in Gloucestershire. This is a very special place thanks to the tremendous efforts by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and I've spent countless hours here over the years and have always thoroughly enjoyed time spent on the reserve as there is always something to see. The drive there was nice and dry, but predictably, as soon as I arrived the heavens opened. The breeze was also strong so I forgot about photography and instead decided to stretch my legs, clear my head and see what I could find, ignoring the inclement weather as best I could. Unsurprisingly, all was quiet although after a pretty thorough search I did manage to find one Large Blue roosting in some long grass. It was tucked away nicely so I didn't get any photos but it looked absolutely pristine and seeing it gave me the motivation I needed to come back when conditions were more favorable. I bumped into a few familiar faces doing survey work as I was leaving and after pointing out the location of the single butterfly I'd found, was surprised to hear that the Large Blues had been seen a few weeks before. I thought I was early this year but seemingly not!

A change of plans on the following Wednesday evening saw me decide to have another recce with a pre-work session planned for Thursday morning. I'd packed my camera gear so took it with me just in case I found anything good. The weather was ideal - cloudy but not dull, with very little breeze - boding well for photography. I found a few fresh Marbled Whites a bit further into the reserve and decided to focus my search on a couple of areas that have yielded good results over the last few years. I spent about 40 minutes looking before I found my first Large Blue and I was pleased to find it was another fresh looking individual. I was even more pleased that it co-operated for a few photos. I'd taken a number of shots when I plane flew low directly overhead. I couldn't help but look up and watched it roar away before returning to my obliging subject. Only it had vanished! I couldn't re-find it so decided to move on. Below is one of the few images I got before I was rudely distracted.

Large BlueLarge Blue

It wasn't long before I found a few more Large Blues, all located within a relatively small area, with a couple found within a few feet of each other. Given I'd not been looking too hard I hoped this was an encouraging sign that they'll have another good year in 2019. I counted at least 6 individuals, all found within about 10 minutes of looking, and focussed my efforts on those on the most appealing perches, though a couple were very low down and getting a clear background was impossible. Below are a couple of my favourites from the session.

Large BlueLarge Blue

Large BlueLarge Blue

As I was packing up to leave, the last butterfly I'd photographed (above) flew a short distance and settled on a piece of grass. I took a few shots and mentally marked where this one was with the hope that it would still be in the vicinity in the morning!

Large BlueLarge Blue

I headed home feeling a little more refreshed and reinvigorated than I did when I arrived. Images were moved onto the laptop, clothes were sorted for the morning and batteries were put on charge. I then set my alarm for 4.45am (!) and hit the sack.

Morning dawned bright and still, with a bit of coolness in the air and after getting packed up and a coffee sorted for the drive, I was off and on my way. I always feel a buzz of excitement when getting up so early for photography thanks to the anticipation about what'll be in store. Arriving on site, I was greeted by a dew-covered outlook and was optimistic about what lay ahead. A roe deer made a brief appearance in the long grass before bounding off for cover and there were also a couple of squawking Jays and a Green Woodpecker around, the latter no doubt about to embark on a day of feasting on the contents of the many ant hills around. I made my way first to where I'd left the roosting Large Blue the evening before and initially thought it had gone but I soon relocated it, a short distance away. As hoped, it was covered in dew and I was quick to get set up before it dried out.

Large BlueLarge Blue

I then had a search around to see if any of the other butterflies found the evening before and I was fortunate to find a few, though they may well have been different ones. By now the sun was up and was illuminating the grassland, covered in various flowers, many of them yellow, so I did my recently found trick of shading the butterfly and overexposing. Below are two shots of the same butterfly, the second a closer version of the first.

Large BlueLarge Blue

I then found a another super fresh Large Blue in an unflattering position and it took no encouragement to climb onto a more accessible flowerhead so I made the most of the opportunity and fired away. The sun was really warming things up by now and I was desperately hoping for that elusive open wing shot that has evaded me for years. Alas, it wasn't meant to be but I couldn't complain as I'd had a great couple of hours in a magical place with some amazing butterflies. I still get a real surge of excitement when I see a Large Blue, given the work that has gone into reintroducing them, and I don't think that feeling will ever fade. They are a very special butterfly.

Large BlueLarge Blue Large BlueLarge Blue

Large BlueLarge Blue

I'm not sure I'll be able to resist another visit and the desire to get an open wing shot will no doubt be enough to pull me back for more over the next few weeks. I'm hoping to get out at least once over the weekend in search of Dark Green Fritillaries but all is quiet on the report front so far on my usual patch but fingers crossed they're now on the wing and not as elusive as they have been before. Incidentally, I've updated my butterfly gallery and now split this into a number of sub-galleries as it was getting a bit cluttered, so if you want to see more of my butterfly photos, they can be found here.

As always, thank you for reading and please leave a comment if you like as I've no idea how often or even if my posts get read! 

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Daneway Banks Gloucestershire Large Blue Large Blue Butterfly Lepidoptera Macro Nature Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/6/large-blues Fri, 21 Jun 2019 15:03:10 GMT
A Not So Common Blue https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/6/a-not-so-common-blue With the weather not realising it's summer, I'm suffering serious cabin fever at the moment and planned photography sessions have been repeatedly cancelled thanks to almost daily deluges. It's very depressing as this is normally one of my favourite and most productive times of year for photography. It is however increasingly my anticipation for what's to come in the next few weeks but for now I thought I'd share a few photos from my last foray out and about when I spent an evening around the Masts Reserve on Cleeve Hill.

I arrived at about 6:30pm and conditions were good. A light breeze was blowing but the light was good with pretty clear skies and the occasional large clouds scudding overhead. I took my normal route down the left hand side of the reserve and noticed immediately that the number of orchids in flower had jumped since my last visit. It was also apparent that butterfly numbers were as good as ever and with the sun still relatively high in the sky, there were plenty of Common Blues active with plenty of males seen basking on flowerheads and grasses. I attempted some shots of these but they were more often than not very skittish or obscured by long grass so I opted to take my time walking around with the hope of finding something a little more photogenic. As per my previous visit, I was finding plenty of groups of roosting butterflies and took a few record shots of these to highlight numbers. This photo was one of the larger groups found:

There were also plenty of Brown Argus, Small Blues and Small Heath butterflies roosting but it was a little while later on the lower slopes when I noticed a very odd looking butterfly. On closer inspection, I realised it was a female Common Blue aberration. I'd found a couple of aberrations before but these had never been Common Blues so this was a new find for me and I don't believe they're anywhere near as common as they are in other species, such as in the Adonis Blue. The main feature that differentiated this butterfly from the norm was the apparent merging of a number of spots on the hindwing, resulting in a large single kidney-shaped spot that really stood out. The weather had improved by now with the light a little less harsh and the breeze much weaker. The butterfly in question was still quite active but was only moving short distances so I waited in the hope it might open its wings but it sadly seemed happy to roost. It eventually settled on a Salad Burnet head so I took this as my cue to set up my gear and began getting some shots of this unusual butterfly. During the time I was shooting, the sun was sometimes veiled by passing cloud so I got a variety of shots in different light. When the sun was out I used my hand to put the butterfly in shadow whilst over-exposing. This is something I started doing last year and I find it works really well at giving a bright, clear background whilst allowing the detail of the butterfly to be showcased.

Common BlueCommon Blue Common BlueCommon Blue Common BlueCommon Blue

As usual, I'd begin shooting through the viewfinder and checking the results to ensure I had a nice clean background and more importantly that the butterfly was all in focus. I picture a triangle with the three points being the butterfly's eye, the wingtip by the tail (bottom back edge of the hindwing) and the wingtip 'at the top' (top back edge of the forewing). Once happy, I then go into live view and use a shutter release cable. I'll also crank down the ISO and will play with the white balance, exposure and F stop. I'll review and delete as I go but often come home with a hefty number of images to review properly on my monitors, at full magnification. It's referred to as pixel-peeping and I'm guilty of it big time! Anyway, back to the butterfly, which by now was stock still and clearly happy where it was. I decided to move away and see if it would open its wings during the next spell of bright sunshine and thankfully it did. I had the fun of trying to get into a good position without casting a shadow and after blasting away for a while I was hopeful I'd got something good. I excitedly reviewed my shots and from what I could see, I had some decent images. On that note I packed up most of my gear and made my way back up the hill towards the car, leaving a very unique butterfly to itself. I'd kept the camera out just in case and when I got to the top of the reserve I found three butterflies at roost on some long grass and whilst getting them all in focus was a challenge, managed a pleasing backlit image. For reference, the smaller butterfly (on the left) is a Brown Argus with the tow larger butterflies on the right Common Blues.

Brown Argus (L) & Common Blues (R)Brown Argus (L) & Common Blues (R)  

I was then homeward bound for some much needed dinner and had that usual feel good factor having been out in the fresh air for a few hours. It really does do wonders.

Back to the here and now, when the weather eventually clears up I'll be targeting Large Blues next. I didn't make it to their main residence in Gloucestershire last year so will be rectifying that this year. I'll also be looking to get images of Dark Green Fritillaries, after my one off find last summer.  Below are two of my favourite shots from last year. Awesome butterflies but buggers to find roosting, so the challenge is on!!

Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary Dark Green FritillaryDark Green Fritillary

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(Dave Collins Photography) Aberration Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Cleeve Hill Common Blue Common Blue Aberration Dave Collins Photography Gloucestershire Macro Masts Reserve Nature Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/6/a-not-so-common-blue Fri, 14 Jun 2019 10:05:51 GMT
2019 Butterfly Season https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/5/2019-butterfly-season The first butterflies of the year emerged a number of months ago, and whilst I missed the start of the season, I've been doing my best to make amends and so far things have been very enjoyable with the usual suspects all seen and caught on camera.

My first venture out was to Cirencester Park in search of the Pearl-bordered Fritillary colony that resides there. I was very fortunate to arrive during a period of strong sun which resulted in me seeing a fritillary on the wing almost straight away. I managed to keep up with it and the sun was soon obscurred by cloud which put the butterfly down. It made a few short flights in the time I was there and during another period of warm sun it posed very nicely indeed. I made a return visit a week or so later but the weather wasn't favourable with the butterflies hyperactive and refusing to settle for photos due to the very warm conditions.

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

I later made a trip to Rodborough Common for the Duke of Burgundy and after a quick search I found a male and female zipping about. I didn't stay for too long and didn't manage any keepers but it was good to see them all the same.

My next session was a trip to Cleeve Hill - more to see what was about rather than for a dedicated photography session - so I left most of my camera gear at home and walked up to get a few steps in too. The climb is always an effort but the fresh air did me the world of good and during the few hours I was out for I managed to see varying numbers of Brown Argus, Common Blue, Small Blue, Small Copper, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood, Brimstone, Duke of Burgundy and the biggest surprise, a Wall Brown. A great walk in beautiful weather.

I returned for an after work session the following week and when I arrived at the Masts Reserve conditions were perfect. Nice soft light and not a hint of a breeze. Perfect for macro photography and I'd decided to target Small Coppers and Small Blues....if I could find them. The former proved elusive but the latter were plentiful. I don't remember finding so many before so it was great to see them doing so well. What wasn't so well by now was the weather. I'd found a roosting Small Blue in a lovely position and got my camera set-up but the light was deteriorating fast and the wind had picked up. There was a front moving in, visible from the top of the hill I was on and photography proved immensely frustrating with the butterfly I was attempting to shoot in and out of the viewfinder every few seconds thanks to its perch being blown about. I decided to call it quits and got back to the car just as the heavens opened. A despondent feeling but the forecast for the following morning looked good so I vowed for a pre-work, 5am alarm session!

I managed to get up in time and was back on location by 5.45am. Conditions were good, with the sky relatively clear so I began my search for roosting butterflies. It didn't take long to find them (aided by having found a number the evening before) so I ended up having a productive few hours and got some pleasing Small Blue images.

Small BlueSmall Blue Small BlueSmall Blue Small BlueSmall Blue

On the walk back to the car I found a very fresh Brown Argus warming up in the sun and it was positioned perfectly. The challenge was getting an open wing shot without blocking the sun and spooking it and after a bit of maneuvering I got a few shots that showed off this beautiful butterfly, with the below the best of the bunch.

Brown ArgusBrown Argus My most recent session was again on Cleeve Hill, after work, and what a difference a week makes. The number of flowers had increased markedly, as had the number of butterflies. I lost count of how many Common Blues I found, with good numbers of Brown Argus and Small Blues also encountered. I did also find a female Adonis Blue but with the sun still out and conditions feeling quite warm, it didn't play ball and was lost from sight. I had a leisurely wander around the Masts Reserve and was able to take my pick when it came to Common Blues, with those roosting on well positioned and relatively clutter free perches the best of the bunch.

Common BlueCommon Blue Common BlueCommon Blue

I'll never tire of photographing these fine little things and have said only recently that I feel like I'm retreading old ground (which I guess I am) but I still really enjoy getting out and looking for (and finding) something to shoot, however common or rare it may be, and capturing it on camera. That's the thing with wildlife photography though; there's always the excitement of not knowing what you'll find and when you'll find it. I can't ever imagine getting bored of the satisfaction of a successful search combined with getting some photos of ones chosen subject.

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Butterfly Photography Cleeve Hill Gloucestershire Macro Macro Photography Nature Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/5/2019-butterfly-season Wed, 29 May 2019 09:28:50 GMT
Florida - Part Two https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/5/florida---part-two This is second part of my Florida trip report and covers the final few days, which were spent around the Fort Myers area. There are plerny of images in this post so I hope you enjoy them!

 

Day 5 - Wednesday 17th October

Another day, another pre-sunrise alarm and I was up and out in no time, full of excitement and enthusiasm for the day ahead. What I absolutely love about wildlife photography is the pre-shoot anticipation and not knowing what's in store. Thankfully I was pretty much guaranteed to find plenty of subjects, it was just a question of what! My plan for the day was to continue exploring the local area, starting with a walk northwards along the beach. It was another beautiful morning and I was soon in the company of Sanderlings, Willet and Grey Plover and I was about to take some pics of the latter when I noticed an American Oystercatcher a little way up the shoreline. I watched from a distance and was pleased to see it didn't seem at all perturbed by those out walking so I made my way a littler closer. This was a lifer for me and a bird I really wanted to photograph so I watched it for a little while longer and once I was happy that it would continue feeding in my direction I laid down and got (un)comfortable. It was soon within range so I began shooting away and before I knew it, it was within a few feet of me and walked on by. I was about to move when it alarm-called and took flight. I was surprised as I'd been very careful to remain still but then realised the actual reason for its swift departure was an unleashed dog bounding towards me. This really irked me as dogs are supposedly banned from this stretch of the beach but within moments the local police were on the scene giving the owner a stern talking to. I took the opportunity to check my images and deleted those not worthy but was very happy indeed to have a good number of keepers.

American OystercatcherAmerican Oystercatcher

American OystercatcherAmerican Oystercatcher

I carried on my walk and there were plenty of birds to see and photograph and I took a few more shots of a confiding Willet before my attention was grabbed by a passing Osprey. It was circling very close to the shore and I was praying it would  dive for a fish as I was in a great position. My luck was amazingly in but I was taken my surprise at just how quickly this magnificent raptor had dived and the next few seconds were a massive blur, as were most of the photos!! It was amazing to be so close to the action and I'm glad that a few frames came out well. This Osprey was unsuccessful, with the following frame just after the bird had left the water empty handed.

OspreyOsprey I was buzzing for quite some time after this but didn't let that get in the way of things and was soon back on my stomach shooting a Grey Plover and a Short-billed Dowitcher that repeatedly came too close, so headshots only of this great looking wader.

Short-billed DowitcherShort-billed Dowitcher

At this point I noticed a large flock of gulls and terns out at sea and watched them make their way back towards the beach where they soon settled. About ten minutes later they were up again and making all kinds of noise so I assumed they were being disturbed either by a dog or other predator. I scanned around and there were no dogs to be seen so I assumed that something else was to blame. My hunch proved right not long after when I happened to glance around. I can't say what made me do that but as I looked over my right shoulder I immediately noticed a shadow on the sand...which wasn't actually a shadow! It was in fact a Peregrine Falcon and it can't have been more than a foot above the sand as it sped towards the already nervous flock of gulls and terns. Instinct kicked in and I lifted the camera and fired off a ream of shots more out of hope than expectation. The scene was carnage with a swirl of white and a cachophony of screams as the falcon smashed into the flock. I couldn't keep track of it so don't know if it managed a kill, but another great spectacle to witness.

The rest of the morning saw plenty more Ospreys pass overhead and multiple dives seen but none were as good as the one witnessed earlier on in the day and I eventually turned around and headed back to the hotel to review the morning's results over breakfast before a much needed dip in the pool. The camera batteries were put on charge and I enjoyed a very pleasant few hours basking in the hot sun.

Feeling ready for my second session of the day, I opted to head South for the rest of the afternoon and evening (on foot) and on my way to the shoreline earlier, I'd noticed a group of White Ibis feeding outside of a hotel a little down the way. The light wasn't in the right place then so I decided to check for them now but sadly they weren't around. I did however then realise that I was actually looking at part of the Little Estero Lagoon area which was supposedly a hot spot for bird photography. Walking around for a better view I noticed an Osprey coming into land on the shore of the main pool I was closest to. It had a wash and then moved up into some nearby trees. I'd got a few shots of the bird in the water but the light was pretty dire. However, it was improving by the minute so I made my way around the lagoon to try and get closer to the now preening Osprey. Cover wasn't great so I used what branches and tree trunks I could and just took things very slowly. I managed to get ridiculously close and got some very pleasing portraits of this brilliant raptor.

OspreyOsprey During the next hour or so I also saw a Pied Kingfisher, Tri-coloured Heron, Little Blue Heron and a yet to be identified sandpiper. I decided to move on from the lagoon and finish the evening along the beach where plenty of waders were going to roost. As the sun was setting I found myself sharing the moment with a typically tame Snowy Egret.

Snowy EgretSnowy Egret

Day 6 - Thursday 18th October

This morning was very much a case a repeat of yesterday morning, given the variety of subjects to shoot. I was yet again up just before sunrise and the weather was, yes, beautiful. I decided to have a look around the corner from the hotel for the flock of White Ibis I'd found the day before and was pleased to find them feeding. They weren't phased with my presence and despite the area they were feeding in being in shadow still, I did manage a few keepers.

White IbisWhite Ibis White IbisWhite Ibis I then headed down to the beach and as usual there were plenty of birds feeding and roosting along the shoreline, with Ospreys hunting over the breaking waves already. I spent a bit of time shooting Sanderlings and Ospreys before noticing a pool up on the beach - I assume created from overnight rainfall. The pool had a number of small waders feeding on it so I made a slow approach to the edge of it and found a number of Semipalmated Plovers along with some even smaller Least Sandpipers. They were very timid but I got some nice images of them in the still water.

Least SandpiperLeast Sandpiper Least SandpiperLeast Sandpiper Least SandpiperLeast Sandpiper They didn't hang around for too long at all so these ended up being the best images I got. Still, great to add a new bird to the list and off I went for more. I soon came across an amazingly confiding Great Egret a little further along the beach, with those out walking dogs and collecting shells also taking an interest in the bird, with some people getting within a few feet of it for selfies with it showing no sign of fear.

Great EgretGreat Egret Great EgretGreat Egret

I eventually moved on, heading back towards the hotel and noticed a small flock of Brown Pelicans resting up on what I can only assume to be struts from an old jetty/pier, so I took a few pics before heading back to the hotel for a well earned bit of food and a lounge by the pool.

Brown PelicanBrown Pelican

I didn't get far before I got distracted by some co-operative subjects feeding around the lagoon. These included the White Ibis (though in smaller numbers than earlier) and a very smart Tri-coloured Heron which begged for a close-up.

White IbisWhite Ibis Af Tri-coloured HeronTri-coloured Heron

After lunch I decided to spend a few hours exploring the nearby Lovers Key State Park. It was extremely hot and humid and not particularly comfortable but I managed a good few hours walking around the various pools and lagoons in the main mangrove swamp part of the reserve. The highlight was a very inquisitive Raccoon. So inquisitive that it was actually too close for photos! Bird-wise, things were surprisingly quiet so I headed down towards the beach and had a very enjoyable walk along the shoreline. Again, not too many birds and nothing new. I did encounter a large gathering of Snowy and Great Egrets at the end of the beach where it curved inland but didn't get any worthwhile images. I did however find a Short-billed Dowitcher and after a very wet and mucky crawl, got within range and began shooting away. A great bird to see at close quarters.

Short-billed DowitcherShort-billed Dowitcher I left the dowitcher to it and made by way back towards the car but not before stopping to wash my clothes. The beach was deserted so I decided to strip off and enjoy a swim whilst my now clean clothes hung drying on a mangrove tree. They were dry in no time and I decided to call it a day, feeling absolutely shattered. An evening of food, a few drinks and reviewing the days pics lay ahead, before my final full day of photography.

Day 7 - Friday 19th October

Where had the time gone?! I woke up bright and early yet again full of enthusiasm for my last day. I'd had a brilliant time so far and was determined to keep the good run going. I was out of the door and down on the beach and for a change, noticed a number of small waders scuttling about quite a way up the beach away from the shoreline. I soon realised they were mainly Snowy Plovers with a few Wilson's Plovers too. New for this part of the beach for me and with the sun still rising, the light was superb. I was about to start shooting when I noticed a funny looking Osprey flying over the beach with a fish. I ignored it then did a check with the binoculars only to then realise it was a Bald Eagle! No decent pics and I was ruing my complacency. I didn't let that ruin my mood and was soon getting nice and sandy with the many plovers in front of me.

Snowy PloverSnowy Plover Snowy PloverSnowy Plover

Snowy PloverSnowy Plover The plover fest continued a little while later, with the sun now higher in the sky. A number of Semipalmated Plovers were in amongst a large flock of Sanderling, Turnstone and Willet. I had to lie in a small pool to get a good angle but if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Semi-palmated PloverSemi-palmated Plover I spent the next hour or so just enjoying the fresh air and the amazing weather, taking it all in whilst I could. By now, the sun was blazing hot and a lot of the birds were attempting to roost. A large flock of Sanderling were doing just this, but with a constant stream of people out on the beach, they were often interrupted, having to shift to a safer distance. I took up a spot on the sand and watched and waited as they moved until I had one Sanderling relatively isolated on the edge of the flock.

SanderlingSanderling The light was harsh but at the right angle gave a lovely pastel feel and I found a Willet not far away that allowed a close approach and that too looked very nice against the white sand a blue sky.

WilletWillet WilletWillet

There was also a very large and very raucous mixed flock of terns in the same area. Not easy subjects to photograph given their white plumage and the brightness of the sun by now but had a crack anyway, with a Sandwich Tern landing and moving towards the flock a chance to get a bird on its own.

It had been a great morning all in all and I'd stayed out a little later than normal to make the most of the time I had left, and despite some very harsh sunlight I was pleased with the results I'd got. One last session to go so it was back to the hotel to recharge the batteries (both for me and my camera), get a bite to eat and cool off in the pool.

For the afternoon session, I'd decided to focus a little more on the lagoon adjacent to the hotel. The White Ibis were again present, as was a Blue Heron but what caught my eye most keenly was a Roseate Spoonbill roosting in the mangroves on the opposite bank to where I was. I really wanted some shots of this colourful bird so made way around the water's edge until I was within range. Unfortunately, there was no way I could get a decent full body shot due to the density of branches between me and the spoonbill. I made the best of things though and got some images of various parts of the spoonbill; it's amazing and weird looking head included!

Roseate SpoonbillRoseate Spoonbill Roseate SpoonbillRoseate Spoonbill Roseate SpoonbillRoseate Spoonbill I didn't spend long at all here as I didn't want to spook the bird so slowly backed away and left it in peace, and decided to see what else was about.  A Blue Heron was again stalking the margins but it was frustratingly either obscured by vegetation or too close! I then noticed a Tri-coloured Heron fishing a bit further away. I watched it initially before realising this could get me some decent action shots so I changed position and got comfy, very carefully avoiding a fire ant nest! Before I knew it I was snapping away whilst the heron did its thing.

Tri-coloured HeronTri-coloured Heron Tri-coloured HeronTri-coloured Heron The heron was soon spooked by another so I took that as a cue to move on and with the sun starting to set I wandered down towards the beach. It was a lot busier than normal so I looked for a quieter spot and the birds had a similar idea. I found a group of plovers  and spent a bit of time with these as they fed on the sand, including a very fast-moving Wilson's Plover.

Wilson's PloverWilson's Plover

The light went from relatively flat to amazing in next to no time and one of the last image of my trip was of a Sanderling making it's way down to the shoreline to roost. The sunset was one of the best of the trip and it seemed fitting to end the trip with a wonderful little wader bathed in some of the best light I've experienced.

SanderlingSanderling As you've probably realised, I'd had an incredible week. The variety and abundance of birds, their often confiding nature, combined with the scenary and weather made for a perfect week of photography. Had I not felt the need to unwind during this trip, I'd no doubt have taken many more more photos but I had an absolute blast and I highly recommend the Gulf Coast as a bird photography destination. It really is very special and I would go back in a heartbeat. Thank you for reading and if you want to see more images, check out my various galleries, which I'm updating on a regular basis.

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Birds Coast Florida Florida Bird Photography Florida Birds Fort Myers Gulf Photography Shorebirds https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/5/florida---part-two Wed, 15 May 2019 14:49:03 GMT
Florida - Part One https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/10/florida---part-one It's fair to say that for most of 2018, my bird photography has taken a back seat. Moving house, work and a general lack of enthusiasm to get out have combined, resulting in my gear being unfairly neglected. That has now been put to rights though following an amazing week spent on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It's been a destination I've wanted to visit for a few years now given the abundance of wildlife (especially birds) and it more than lived up to expectations. This blog post will covers the first half of my trip with plenty of images included, with an additional part to follow to cover the rest of my trip. Suffice to say I took an awful lot of photos so I'll showcase my favourites. 

Day One - Saturday 13th October

A day of travel and not a lot else! It started with a very early morning drive to Gatwick airport for my 10:50am flight to Orlando Sanford which was hiccup free and relatively comfortable. I arrived at about 15:30 local time and after the normal faff of getting through security and collecting my baggage it was then off to the Alamo desk to collect my hire car. I must say, this was super quick and easy and I was really impressed at how smooth this went. I was on the road in no time and heading to my first base of the week - Treasure Island. I'd opted for a hotel right on the beach and once checked in I dumped my stuff and watched the sunset from the beach. It was then time for a quick bite to eat, prepare my kit ready for the morning before getting some much needed sleep!

Day Two - Sunday 14th October

My first 'proper' day and I was up and out before sunrise. I decided to spend the first half of the day locally and explore the beach and had an absolute ball with some brilliant birds seen. Loads of waders including Willet and Sanderling and plenty of terns with Sandwich, Royal and Forster's found along with my first Black Skimmers of the trip.


 

SanderlingSanderling Laughing GullLaughing Gull Black SkimmerBlack Skimmer I also saw plenty of Osprey's fishing along the shore and enjoyed watching them whilst tucking into a delicious beachfront breakfast. After walking back to the hotel I had a bit of a rest and recharge by the pool (it would have been rude not to) before heading over to Fort De Soto later in the afternoon. A beautiful place and yet more fab birds seen including a super smart Tri-coloured Heron on North Beach which didn't seem at all bothered by people. I had a nice walk around this part of the preserve and more waders were seen along with yet more approachable herons and egrets. Plenty to see and shoot and I vowed to come back for more.

 

Day Three - Monday 15th October

I opted to follow the same pattern as the previous day though visited the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in the morning which was great little place which takes in and rehabilitates injured birds. Aside from the birds in care, there were some amazingly tame Black-crowned Night Herons and Black Vultures hanging about, more often than not too close for anything other than headshots. A little less focal length would definitely be helpful.

I then went for a wander along the beach here and found my first Grey Plover of the trip which was great fun to photograph before the highlight of the morning which came in the form of a Long-billed Dowitcher in amongst several more Grey Plover. It was relatively skittish but a patient and messy approach resulted in some images I'm really pleased with.

Grey PloverGrey Plover Short-billed DowitcherShort-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed DowitcherShort-billed Dowitcher I then walked back South along the beach where Great and Snowy Egrets were fishing in the surf, Turnstones were feeding among some rocks and a number of Brown Pelicans were resting on some wooden struts just off the beach. A busy morning so it was back to the hotel for lunch and a swim. I then returned to Fort de Soto in the afternoon and did a bit more exploring. I found a great little cove that was teeming with birds so set up here and enjoyed a great session, with Reddish Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Knot, Least Sandpiper and Wilson's Plover all found.

KnotKnotKnot

Greater YellowlegsGreater YellowlegsGreat Yellowlegs

Tri-coloured HeronTri-coloured Heron
The sunset was also magnificent and the photos I got just do not do it justice.

 

Day Four - Tuesday 16th October

An early start saw me on the road well before sunrise for a visit to the Circle B Bar Reserve; an inland reserve where alligators would be my main target. I arrived just after 8am and it was already extremely hot and very humid. Given I wasn't just after birds at this location I decided to pack my macro lens too so once all set I was soon off exploring the trails. It didn't take long before I was looking at my first ever Limpkin. A very confiding bird but sadly positioned between me and the early-morning sun with no possible way for me to get into a better position. Still, I managed a relatively pleasing backlit headshot despite some super hot whites but you can't have it all.

I then proceeded around the back of the reserve via the 'Eagle's Roost' trail and had a number of lifers with Sandhill Cranes, American Kestrels, Loggerhead Shrike and Bald Eagle all seen. No pics sadly but great to see nonetheless. There were also stacks of Gulf Fritillary butterflies to be seen but given the heat they weren't settling so I didn't even attempt to get photos of them. I then looped back into the main part of the reserve and came face to face with a very showy Anhinga though actually struggled to find a position to get the whole of the bird in the frame, so opted for some head and neck shots. It's easy to see why they're often known as the 'snakebird'! A Great Egret also posed nearby and Opsreys were numerous, fishing in the ponds that made up the reserve.

A little while later I had a great fly-past from a Belted Kingfisher with more Anhingas, egrets and heron's seen (mainly Little Blue and Tri-coloured) though none in decent light for photography. My search for alligators turned out to be fruitless and from the sounds of it, that was the theme of the day with pretty much everyone I spoke to also failing to see them. Very disappointing but still a brilliant morning. Also of of note was my first ever raccoon along with a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (wow!), Pilated and Black-bellied woodpeckers, Mourning Doves and a number of warblers that I haven't yet identifed. It was then time to head South to Fort Myers, where I'd be based for the remainder of the my trip. The drive was nice and straightforward and after a few hours I was checking in to my hotel. Given the heat and the long drive I opted to have a bit of chill time so I spent a very relaxing hour or so by the pool with a few ice cold beers - pure bliss and a much needed recharge! Talking of recharging, my camera batteries were now ready to go so I hit the beach for an evening stroll to see what was about and unsurprisingly there were plenty of waders feeding along the shoreline with Willet, Semi-palmated Plover, Grey Plover, Turnstone and Sanderling all in abundance and I was soon on my stomach firing away. Some roosting Semipalmated Plovers were fun to shoot and they looked pretty cute as they nestled themselves down into the sand.

A Grey Plover decided to come and investigate me and was soon far too close for anything more than a headshot, and by now the sun was rapidly descending in the sky with another wonderful sunset caught in the reflection of the bird's eye.

The light had soon faded and whilst I could've eeked out a few more images I decided to call it a day and sat back and enjoyed the last few rays of sun as they sank beyond the horizon. It had been a long and tiring day but it was nice to have made the most of it and done a little more exploring. I took a slow stroll along the beach back to the hotel before a few drinks, some food and a deleting session ready for the next day. I'll cover the remainder of my trip in the next post which will be up soon but in the meantime, thank you for reading!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Birds Dave Collins Photography Florida Florida bird photography Gulf Coast Nature Photography Shorebirds Trip report Waders Wildlife Wildlife blog https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/10/florida---part-one Mon, 29 Oct 2018 15:33:37 GMT
Silver-studded Super Saturday https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/6/silver-studded-super-saturday With the butterfly season well underway and the weather doing what it's supposed to do for a change at this time of year, I got thinking about what to focus on next and where to go. Right up there is the Dark Green Fritillary - a cracking looking butterfly that I'm yet to really photograph properly. With Cleeve Hill my new 'patch' I've been up there a few times in high spirits but not a single one even seen so far. With the weekend approaching I was in two minds as to whether to have another go or do something else. I decided I have weeks to keep searching so, after a bit of reading up, chose to go for a little day-trip. I say little, but involved a 3am alarm and a lot of driving. I had decided now was the time to added the Silver-studded Blue to my UK list, with Prees Heath the closest place with a very good chance of success.

Saturday morning saw me drag my very tired body out of bed at just gone 3am and after a massive coffee and a banana I was on my way. The drive was around 100 miles and my much trusted SatNav (aka Google maps) gave me an ETA of around 5.30am. I set off with very high hopes given recent reports and the drive was thankfully incident free. However, as I got closer to Prees the sun was already up and I was beginning to wonder if I'd be too late to find the butterflies roosting up for my much preferred under-wing shots. I parked up and with my bearings sussed made my way into Prees Heath Nature Reserve through the main entrance. One thing that surprised my was just how cold it felt. Packing a jumper just in case paid off. I made my way into the reserve with no real idea of where to look so immediately began scanning the grasses and other plants for signs of life. After 15 minutes or so I noticed a butterfly on a flowerhead but it turned out to be Small Heath. The heart rate had risen but just as quickly returned to normal. A few metres further on I spotted another butterfly and I was over the moon when I realised it was my first ever Silver-studded Blue. Get in! It was roosting low in the grass so the search continued for a more photogenic subject and it didn't take long at all until my tally was up to 6. This was more like it! Roosting heights varied but I struck absolute gold with two males roosting in a patch of what I think was willowherb though it was relatively short in height compared to what I'm used to. After a bit of manouvering I was able to get both butterflies with a nice clutter free background which was very nicely lit by the ongoing sunrise. I had an idea of what the image would look like in my head but it wasn't until I checked the back of the camera that I had that real burst of absolute satisfaction. I felt like this was one of my favourite butterfly shots to date.

Silver-studded BluesSilver-studded Blues

I left these two little gems to it and continued further into the reserve, taking the path Southwards on the Western side. The habitat along this stretch didn't scream out butterflies but I kept my eyes peeled none-the-less. What did jump out was the sheer number of Cinnebar caterpillars. Plant after plant was plastered in them! I didn't let them distract me though and carried on. After what felt like an age I spotted some flowering heather in the distance and that did perk my interest as I'd seen so many photos of the blues on this that my hopes rose. I didn't reach the heather as soon as I should have done thanks to finding a much fresher looking male Silver-studded Blue. A real peach so I had to get some shots.

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue

A little while later I tore myself away and continued on, entering a much sandier part of the heathland. Within seconds I spotted at least 4 blues on the heather, all still roosting and upon closer inspection found three of them to be female. Each looked extremely fresh too so I was soon shooting away whilst grinning like a Cheshire cat. The long drive and early start seemed a lifetime ago.

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue Butterflies were soon on the wing and the one I had in front of me began to open it's wings in order to warm up so I adjusted my position to have the heather behind the butterfly. I also stopped down to bring the more of the butterfly into focus and to also bring the background more into perspective.

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue  More and more of the blues were warming up and it wasn't long before open wing shots were here, there and everywhere.

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue By now the butterflies were extremely active and shots of roosting subjects became a lot harder with them bouncing into the air when I got close. I had a few chats with locals and fellow visitors and they shared some tips on other parts of the area that were good so I went for a wander to have a look. I entered one area of low-level scrub (mainly consisting of heather) and couldn't believe how many blues there were. I actually ended up having to watch my feet at times for fear of treading on them. It was a brilliant experience and was yet another reward for making the effort. I then noticed the first of three mating pairs that I found within a 50 metre stretch. What drew my attention was the number of males located in one patch. It turned out they were obviously keen to get in on the act! I left them to it as they were tucked down low in the heather and I soon found pair number two and they were in a much more open setting. Sadly the breeze had now kicked up so I had to try and get my shots whilst this poor pair of butterflies were being buffeted by the wind. A bit of patience and a lot of blurry shots later I had a few keepers.

Silver-studded BluesSilver-studded Blues

Pair number three were similarly positioned though in a slightly more sheltered spot which made photographing them that little bit easier. The challenge with mating butterflies is getting all of each one in focus. Again, patience and lots of duff shots paid off.

Silver-studded BluesSilver-studded Blues It was now about 9:30 am and I couldn't believe how quickly time had gone. It was also getting seriously warm and with the breeze also whipping around I called it quits on the photography and took a leisurely stroll back to the car for some nibbles and a drink. I didn't even try and count the number of blues on the way back but it must've been 100+. If you want to see Silver-studded Blues, Prees Heath will be hard to beat!

After some much needed nourishment I had a scan through the morning's photos and deleted those that wouldn't make the cut. I then decided to check how far away Whixhall Moss Nature Reserve was as I knew it was in Shropshire and was a good bet for two more lifers - the Large Heath Butterfly and the White-faced Darter. I was very pleasantly surprised to be told by Google that I was only a 20 minute drive away and given I'd come all this way I decided to give it a go. I found it easily enough, crossing a charming draw-bridge over the canal, parked up, got my bearings and headed off with low expectations. How wrong I was. Within 10 minutes a butterfly drifted past that looked a bit different and after a bit of waiting it eventually settled in the grass and I managed to get a good enough view to confirm it was a Large Heath. Mission accomplished and what a great feeling. In the next 40 minutes or so I saw several more but with the wind now really strong and the Large Heaths not settling in plain sight I only managed poor record shots but I was chuffed just to have seen them. I then found a few boggy pools and it wasn't long before an unusual shape took off and flew straight past my head. In all the excitement I misplaced my footing and ended up thigh-deep in water. Not good but I was relieved to have got just myself soaked, with the camera and binoculars remaining dry. A stinking, soaking mess, I climbed out and then found what was my first White-faced Darter - well two actually as what I'd seen previously was a mating pair. Get-in (again)! I saw at least five in total and they were fabulous looking things. I didn't manage any decent shots as they were settling out of range but what a brilliant way to end my visit. All in all a very productive and worthwhile trip, made all the better by some very friendly locals I met on my walks around both reserves. It's been a long time since I've had a day-trip anywhere and this has certainly given me the hunger for more.

Now....where are those Dark Green Fritillaries...

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly photography Large Heath Macro Nature Photography Plebejus Argus Press Heath Shropshire Silver-studded Blue Whixhall Moss Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/6/silver-studded-super-saturday Tue, 26 Jun 2018 18:46:18 GMT
A Long Overdue Catch-up https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/6/long-overdue I can't believe it's been nearly a year since my last bog post. Where has the time gone?! Whilst the blog has been quiet, my photography has been ticking over. and this post is a whistle-stop catch-up covering the main highlights of the last six months or so. During the autumn and winter months I set up a new woodland feeding station closer to home and whilst it took some time to really get going it provided plenty of memorable moments. The highlight was the visit of a small flock of Bramblings. Sadly they chose an extremely dull and dismal day so the photos weren't great. Another treat was a few months later when a pair of Bullfinches became regular visitors. The male was an absolute cracker but it was the female which more readily posed for the camera. Plenty of the usual suspects were regular visitors and below are a few of my favourites.

BullfinchBullfinch BullfinchBullfinch Marsh TitMarsh Tit NuthatchNuthatch During the last few months my attention inevitably moved away from birds and towards this season's first dragonflies and butterflies and whilst I've not been out and about anywhere near as much as I'd have liked due to a house move, I have had some brilliant moments. 

First up was a fine morning in nearby Wiltshire where I was up and out before sunrise looking for Orange-tips. The hot spots of last year failed to deliver and a very a couple of hours of searching I was beginning to give up hope. I then found a pristine male roosting on a bluebell flowerhead - a perfect combination. The sun was however really heating things up and I was worried I'd been too late but thankfully the butterfly remained in position long enough for me to get plenty of shots, my favourite of which was a nice back-lit image.

Orange-tipOrange-tip Orange-tipOrange-tip

Next up was a hunt for the elusive Duke of Burgundy on Rodborough Common - one of my favourite places for butterflies in Gloucestershire. I timed my visited badly though. Whilst I got very lucky and found one roosting up almost immediately, the heavens soon opened and the Duke wisely flew off to seek shelter. I hurriedly packed my gear away but ended up a drowned rat. Still, no pain no gain.

Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy  

I was determined to go back for more and a few days later with a favourable forecast paid another visit to the usual colony. That, however, didn't go to plan and despite a really good search, I failed to find any Duke of Burgundy's. Very disappointing. I then decided to go for a walk along the more Western slopes towards the Fort and by complete fluke found a Green Hairstreak resting on a dried flowerhead. What's more the sun was now just high enough to illuminate the grasses behind. I was again worried the butterfly would take flight given the rapid increase in temperature but it posed beautifully for me and I got my best images to date of this fabulous little species. It even posed for me after it has warmed up when it moved to a nearby blackthorn bush. Sometimes the stars just align!

Green HairstreakGreen Hairstreak Green HairstreakGreen Hairstreak May soon arrived and it was that time of year that always gets me excited - Pearl-bordered Fritillary time! An early recon visit to Cirencester Park turned up a blank but it was a very optimistic punt but I had high hopes for the following weekend. Indeed, come Saturday morning I was up and out and began my hunt. As is often the way, it felt like an eternity of searching but the wait was worth it with a few individuals found and photographed. I returned the following weekend for more and numbers were again low - much lower than last year. I was however on site when it was very cool and cloudy so I'm hoping the fritillaries were there, just hiding! Below are a handful of images from the two successful visits I had:

Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary I haven't yet made it to Daneway Banks for the Large Blue, which is now on the wing but I am now living at the foot of Cleeve Hill so that's my new patch. I am absolutely determined to get some images of the resident Dark Green Fritillaries this year - something that I haven't managed to achieve yet so fingers crossed that changes over the coming weeks. I'm hoping the blog will become more regular once again, if only to esnure I have the reminder of what I've seen and when. So, until next time (which will hopefully be very soon indeed), thank you for reading and here's hoping to a summer full of wildlife (and England bringing the World Cup home!).

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(Dave Collins Photography) birds butterflies butterfly butterfly photography cirencester park gloucestershire green hairstreak macro macro photography nature pearl-bordered fritillary photography rodborough common spring wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/6/long-overdue Fri, 22 Jun 2018 21:40:00 GMT
Iceland: Part 1 https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/6/iceland-part-1 Mon, 26 Jun 2017 11:47:27 GMT
Fritillaries & Blues https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/5/fritillaries-blues Mon, 29 May 2017 15:01:56 GMT
Pearl-bordered Fritillaries https://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) https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/5/pearl-bordered-fritillaries Sun, 14 May 2017 19:49:13 GMT
Butterfly Fortunes https://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) https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/butterfly-fortunes Sun, 30 Apr 2017 19:14:05 GMT
Spring Stunner https://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) https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/spring-stunner Mon, 17 Apr 2017 21:42:08 GMT
Catching Up https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/4/catching-up Fri, 14 Apr 2017 17:48:36 GMT
Still Waiting https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2017/1/still-waiting Thu, 26 Jan 2017 20:48:16 GMT
Feeding Station Update https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/11/feeding-station-update Thu, 17 Nov 2016 21:41:55 GMT
Autumnal Fires https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/11/autumnal-fires Mon, 07 Nov 2016 21:56:51 GMT
My Very Own Bird Feeding Station https://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) https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/10/my-very-own-bird-feeding-station Sun, 30 Oct 2016 21:50:53 GMT
Sands of Time https://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) https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/9/sands-of-time Tue, 13 Sep 2016 21:15:31 GMT
Little Stints https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/little-stint Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:13:19 GMT
Chalkhill Blues https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/chalkhill-blues Sat, 20 Aug 2016 11:25:11 GMT
Dordogne Butterflies: Part 2 https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/8/dordogne-butterflies-part-2 Mon, 08 Aug 2016 14:32:38 GMT
Dordogne Butterflies: Part 1 https://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 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.

Spotted FritillarySpotted Fritillary

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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/7/dordogne-butterflies Sun, 10 Jul 2016 13:02:59 GMT
I Got The Blues https://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.

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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/6/i-got-the-blues Sat, 25 Jun 2016 15:13:58 GMT
June Gems https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/6/june-gems Sun, 12 Jun 2016 14:04:21 GMT
May Butterflies https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/may-butterflies Sat, 28 May 2016 21:14:09 GMT
California Dreamin'; Part Two https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/california-dreamin-part-two Mon, 16 May 2016 19:50:57 GMT
California Dreamin': Part One https://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 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/california-dreamin-part-one Tue, 10 May 2016 19:02:29 GMT
Woodland Walks and a Beautiful Barn Owl https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/woodland-walks-and-a-beautiful-barn-owl It's been a while since my last post so this is a quick update on what's been going on. In summary, not quite what I'd hoped but there have been a few highlights. 

I've spent a fair few hours at a local park which has a number of handy feeding stations in place and with people repeatedly walking past the resident birds have clearly grown accustomed to human visitors meaning they're very confiding. This makes photography a little easier and I've had some amusing moments the best of which is one of the many robins using my lens as a lookout post, with it even bursting into song! Back to the birds, those that have seen most of my attention are the long-tailed tits, coal tits and nuthatches, the latter I absolutely love watching. Aggressive, super-quick and fine looking things that seem to be able to perch any which way they desire. The long-tailed tits have been as equally interesting, dropping in every half-an-hour or so in small flocks before disappearing into the undergrowth. I've not previously managed to photograph these diminutive chirpers so I've been pleased with the shots I've got. Below are a few from the last few weeks....

Coal TitCoal Tit NuthatchNuthatch

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit

The real highlight of the last few weeks came during the weekend just gone when I finally managed to get some decent images of a barn owl which put on a brilliant display, hunting in the sun for a good few hours. I was a little unprepared when it first appeared in the early afternoon but after a bit of patience I was able to get in the right place just as it began quartering the area in which I'd positioned myself and these were probably the best views I've had. An unforgettable moment. Each of the following images were captured on the D800 at 420mm. The reach of a 500mm lens would've been even better but beggars can't be choosers. At least for now!

Barn OwlBarn Owl Barn OwlBarn Owl Barn OwlBarn Owl

With the lighter evenings fast approaching we don't have long to wait for the migrants to begin arriving. And then it'll be the turn of the butterflies. I cannot wait!

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(Dave Collins Photography) https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/woodland-walks-and-a-beautiful-barn-owl Sun, 08 May 2016 16:14:45 GMT
A Day of Finches and Firsts https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/1/a-day-of-finches-and-firsts Saturday 16th January 2016 was a good day. After what has been a depressingly dull few weeks, if not months, winter finally arrived in South-West England and I made the most of the day with some great moments bagged. No snow unfortunately but clear skies and icy conditions were just as welcome and an early alarm call meant I was in the car and on my way well before sunrise. Having the roads almost to myself was bliss but given the heavy frost I erred on the side of caution and took things steady. I'd staked out a decent site earlier in the week for some very special finches and arrived with not a sole to be seen. It wasn't long before the birds started appearing and with the sun still yet to fully rise, light was a little sparse but that soon changed. My aim was to get some decent views, and hopefully photos, of a flock of cracking Bramblings that are over-wintering and I'm pleased to say it was mission-accomplished with at least eight of these mottled finches seen during a few fantastic hours. I enjoyed plenty of point-blank encounters but inevitably the Bramblings weren't alone, with lots of Greenfinches (super aggressive ones too), Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings and best of all, a handful of Tree Sparrows in the vicinity. These elusive birds were a lifer for me and when I set my binoculars on them I had to do a double take. Increasingly intensive farming has hit these once common birds hard so seeing them in the English countryside these days is no sure thing. I was delighted to have finally seen them and spent a good while watching them preening, feeding and bickering. 

Back to the Bramblings, they were more than happy to come and feed at close quarters, though being tucked up, still and quiet was clearly the order of the day and as a result I was able to get some pleasing images. 

BramblingBrambling

This particular Brambling was very quick to fly in and feed and took me by surprise time and again by suddenly appearing, grabbing some food, and disappearing back into cover. It did however allow some amazing close-up views.

BramblingBrambling

The sun was initially actually a pain as it meant I was shooting in shadow but once it reached its peak it transformed the scene and this male Brambling took a moment to enjoy some rays. My only frustration was the depth of field being a little too shallow but beggars can't be choosers.

BramblingBrambling

As I mentioned earlier, the local Greenfinches were incredibly aggressive towards any intruders and saw off countless visitors as they fed. Bulky birds which I could identify just from their strong wingbeats, they were just as photogenic.

GreenfinchGreenfinch

After a great couple of hours I got a text from fellow photographer Dave Soons, who was planning a trip over to Gloucester for the Penduline Tits. I didn't think twice about this and we were soon off, hopefully to see these very rare visitors to the UK. On arrival I couldn't believe how many people were present - this was a proper twitch! I'm not a fan of the big crowds but we were soon watching the two male birds (my second lifers of the day) which performed brilliantly for the time we were there and it was nice to help a few people get onto the stars of the show. The birds were quite distant and I decided not to bother getting my camera out given the glut of shots already taken by others but had a great time just watching the action. We then headed back towards home and decided to look for the Barn Owls that had been showing well at Shorncote. It was a bit of a wait but one eventually appeared and made a beeline for us before disappearing for a while. By this time the light had started to go and I said that me putting my camera away would guarantee the return of the owl. So I put my kit back in my rucksack and just as I was putting this on my back the owl appeared at close range before heading for cover. Typical, but amusing in equal measure. So, all in all, a mighty fine but chilly day with some great birds seen, some photos taken, excellent company including seeing a few familiar faces and real appreciation for the hobby that I cannot get enough of. Let's hope for more of the same for the rest of the year!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Birds Brambling Cold Farmland Finches Frost Gloucestershire Greenfinch January Nature Penduline Tits Photography Wildlife Winter https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2016/1/a-day-of-finches-and-firsts Sun, 17 Jan 2016 17:46:15 GMT
Review of 2015 https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/12/review-of-2015 The end of 2015 is nigh. That can mean only one thing. No, not drunkenly bumbling through 'Auld Lang Syne' at midnight on New Year's Eve (though that will happen), but looking back over the last 12 months and picking my wildlife related highlights. Unfortunately, the last few months have felt like an utter wipe-out thanks to the recurring foul weather that has been battering the UK so I've been looking back a lot more than I normally would. As much as I'd moan about how rubbish the weather has been from a photography perspective, it only takes a quick look at the news to bring home how much worse things could be so I'll not dwell on the misery! Instead, I'll cast my mind back to those warm, peaceful, butterfly-filled evenings, an amazing week on the Isles of Scilly and a few other bits and pieces....

Starting with butterflies, this was by far my best year yet when it comes to photographing British butterflies and whilst I missed a few targets I'm very happy with how things went. I'd had a good crack at butterflies last year with my then new macro lens but I feel I really moved on this year, both in terms of results but just as importantly with regards my knowledge and field craft. By far and away my favourite moment in this respect was finding a number of fresh Pearl-bordered Fritillaries in Cirencester Park. I decided to start looking on one particular May day despite no positive news but went out with a hunch, which proved right. I found a cracking specimen on a fern stem - an image I had in mind - and the satisfaction was immense. This was one of two colonies that I keep and eye on and hopefully this species can recover over the coming years after being hit hard by loss of habitat.

Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary

Another butterfly close to my heart is the Large Blue and this year was another successful year locally with a number of these rare beauties found on almost every visit and frequent my visits were! It was great to meet a Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust representative recording numbers and locations and we spent many hours searching for the blues with temperature, gps and roosting height data collected. Hopefully the results shed more light on this enigmatic species. I certainly felt I developed a much better understanding of their preferred roosting locations and this really helped save time when searching for subjects to photograph.

Large BlueLarge Blue

Other butterfly highlights were spending a stunning summer's evening at Strawberry Banks with not a soul in sight other than the hundreds of Marsh Fritilleries that were seemingly everywhere. I found a very co-operative individual after the sun had set but thankfully there was hardly a breath of wind so I managed some nice images despite a slower than desired shutter speed. 

Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary

I had a similar encounter with a Small Copper which I somehow noticed in near darkness after a long spell spent looking for Large Blues at Daneway Banks. The following image was taken at just 1/6 sec so a definite bonus to get home and find it just about sharp enough, even more so considering the difficulty I have finding this species.

Small CopperSmall Copper

In terms of birds, 2015 beckoned a few lifers for me. These included Black-necked Grebe, Grey Phalarope, Black-throated Diver, Sandwich Tern, Great Skua and, the star of the show, Snow Bunting. The latter really springs to mind given the amazing circumstances in which it was found. Or should that be in which it found me? More details here but suffice to say it was a magical moment that I'll be hard pressed to beat.

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting

A lot closer to home, I spent a considerable amount of time with pair of young Great Spotted Woodpeckers, my first bit of bird photography of the summer, and it was great fun. Regular appearances in great light gave me my first decent shots of these woodland birds.

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker

Another species I spent a lot of time with was a local population of Grass Snakes. Lots of searching has revealed an excellent site with a healthy population of these reptiles. My highest count was 12 snakes in a 5 minute search - a real treat! I managed to find a couple of snakes basking out in the open too and on a few occasions was able to get close enough for some shots. Always fantastic to see and my fascination with snakes never ceases.

Grass SnakeGrass Snake

Things that haven't quite got to plan include my second Water Rail project which I was hoping to get going during December. This has been a huge disappointment due to last year's site being badly affected by the incessant heavy rain we've had over the last few months. The area I'd had great success with has been flooded to an extent that the birds have limited open areas in which to move quickly. I also think the milder conditions have reduced their need to come out into the open in search of food. I'll endeavor in the new year but at present it's not looking good. 

I'd also hoped to finally get a Purple Emperor on camera but as was the case in 2014, timings meant I missed out. Still, it means I've still got that challenge to meet.

Looking ahead to 2016, I've already got a few weeks in the USA booked and am hoping to get a few opportunities to explore the San Francisco Bay area with my camera. A day out whale watching is very high on the to-do list so that's a holiday that I'm really looking forward to. I'm also leaning towards upgrading my lens from the 300mm F2.8 to the 500mm F4 but that's a maybe at this stage and will most likely happen later on in 2016 (if at all). Finally, I'm hoping to travel a bit more around the UK from next year onwards. Staying close to home gives me the advantage of local knowledge but I'd like to see a bit more of the UK and a trip to Norfolk is already on my mind. We'll see what happens.

All that's left for me to do is thank all of you who've taken the time to visit my website. All comments are greatly appreciated and it's always good to know people are enjoying my photography, so thank you!

Here's to a wildlife packed 2016!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Birding Birds Blog Butterfly Daneway Banks Gloucestershire Macro Nature Photography Review of 2015 Strawberry Banks Wildlife Wildlife photography https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/12/review-of-2015 Thu, 31 Dec 2015 16:52:55 GMT
Scilly Snow Bunting https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/10/scilly-snow-bunting We've just returned home from a fantastic week on the Isles of Scilly. Spending the last week in September on a small archipelago in the Atlantic was a bit of a gamble with the ever present threat of low pressure systems sweeping in but we hit the jackpot with wall-to-wall sunshine every day. We really couldn't have asked for better weather and it really made exploring the various islands an amazing experience. With white sands and turquoise seas it was often hard to believe we were just 28 miles from Lands End. Our week away was a holiday though and with my partner having little interest in birding, I was limited to early morning forays before breakfast. Those sessions weren't particularly productive with the most frequently seen birds being the local Oystercatchers and Turnstones. We did see plenty of Wheatears, Stonechats and a very fine Whinchat whilst out and about but it was a chance encounter that really was a highlight for me and is the subject of this blog post.

Little Porth beach, situated on the Northern tip of St Mary's took our breath away when we first discovered it during a walk around the coastal path. Pure white sands, crystal clear waters and a fine view over to neighbouring St Martins made it a real site to behold. Our dog absolutely loved it too, running around chasing flies and anything else that happened to move. We spent most of our days exploring but decided we'd have a lazy day and really unwind and opted on a return visit to Little Porth. The walk there was very pleasant but when we got to the beach the easterly wind was really up so we found a sheltered spot at the top of the beach, nestled just under the dunes behind us. This gave us a great view and offered just enough protection from the stiff breeze for us to sit comfortably. On the way here, I'd explained to my partner that I'd felt a little unlucky having not seen any really good birds since we'd arrived, despite looking high and low. We'd missed the Red-Eyed Vireo on St Agnes during our day there, with it deciding to go into stealth mode. Still, we were surrounded by stunning views so I ceased complaining.

Back on the beach, we'd been sat down for about five minutes when the dog went bounding off after yet another bit of seaweed blowing across the beach. Or so I thought. I said "what's she after this time" and was told "that little bird". "What bird?", I replied. "That one just there on the sand". As soon as I set eyes on it my heart skipped a beat. Right there in front of us on this deserted beach sat my very first Snow Bunting. My excitement wasn't at all contained and I was later told I was a like a kid seeing his presents on Christmas Day. My partner said she'd seen the bird come in from the East and land where it was now resting, so it's possible that this was the first land it had seen for some time. Thankfully, our dog has no interest in getting too close to anything 'new' so she backed off almost immediately when the bunting had arrived. We watched it for a few minutes and it remained stock-still. I'd been taking my camera gear everywhere we'd been in case of such an eventuality and today was no exception so I got set up in record time. I'd read previously that Snow Buntings can be very confiding and I prayed to the bird Gods that this one followed suit. I took a very slow, cautious approach, belly crawling through the fine sand and patchy grass. The bird didn't budge so I took a few shots, moved a bit closer, took some more and decided to stop when I was about 10 feet away. I was conscious that this wonderful little creature may have been tired after a long flight and I really didn't want to risk alarming it. So there I led, for a good 10 minutes, enjoying some quality time with a beautiful little bird. It didn't move much, only tilting its head as other birds called nearby. I checked the back of he camera to check how things were looking and was buzzing. The sand behind was completely free of clutter so my obliging subject was completely isolated - just the way I like it! I moved around slightly to get a better angle and even then there was no reaction. I've no doubt I could've got closer but there was no point as I was more than close enough for some near frame-filling shots. 

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting Snow BuntingSnow Bunting

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting Snow BuntingSnow Bunting Eventually the Snow Bunting made a slow turn and then moved up and began feeding amongst the detritris left by a recent high tide. At this point I slowly backed away, leaving it in peace. For the next two hours, it remained where it was, hopping along slowly and occasionally looking around between feeding, all whilst we sat nearby and relaxed in the sun.

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting Snow BuntingSnow Bunting

This was in my view one of those moments that shows that wildlife photography can be greatly aided by a little bit of luck. I'd love to know what the odds of a new bird for me arriving on a deserted beach on a tiny island and it landing metres away were. This made it all the more memorable and I'll never forget the circumstances of this close encounter with a wonderful little bird. It's times like these that make all of the hard work and fruitless searches worthwhile. Just when you start to think it's all for nothing something magical happens. Incidentally, a little later in the afternoon, from the same spot, I found a stunning but distant Red-Throated Diver still sporting its summer plummage, bobbing up and down out at sea. This was later seen really close-in at Porthcressa, just along from where we'd been staying, though sadly we'd set sail for the mainland by then. As we approached Penzance we watched the sun set behind Lands End, drawing to a close a truly fantastic week featuring one of my all time favourite wildlife encounters.

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(Dave Collins Photography) Autumn Bird Birding Birds Isles of Scilly Migration Photography Plectrophenax nivalis Snow Bunting St Marys https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/10/scilly-snow-bunting Sun, 04 Oct 2015 09:22:45 GMT
Great Spotted Woodpeckers https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/8/woodpeckers Over the last month or so there’s been a notable shift in the focus of my photography. Early morning visits to dew soaked meadows in search of butterflies and dragonflies have become less frequent, with my attention shifting back to winged creatures of the avian variety. I had been venturing out with my macro lens alone, with my 300mm lens tucked up safely at home. This time of year is notoriously quiet when it comes to birds, with migration yet to kick back in and most birds seeing their last few fledglings depart the nest, hence the common shift in subjects from birds to mini-beasts. I mixed things up about a month ago though following a visit to a friend’s private site which has a resident family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos Major). Since my childhood this species has always been one that has excited me, no doubt due to their elusive nature. I recall seeing one in my gran’s garden at a young age and being enthralled as it hung from a peanut feeder, chipping away at the food held within. To this day, I still find them an exciting bird to see, more often then not as their undulating flight takes them from one tree to another.

The last few weeks have involved many hours tucked up in a hide overlooking a feeding station which has been frequented by four individual birds, three of which are juveniles. I spent a similar amount of time over the winter at a local nature reserve with this species as my main target but really struggled, mainly down to the birds being extremely timid and disappearing at the slightest sign of movement or noise. Fortunately, the site I’ve been visiting has been the polar opposite the birds very bold and rarely reacting to unexpected noises or movements, sneezing fits included.

Observing these birds at close range has given me a great insight into their behaviour, especially the younger birds. I've only seen the adults on two occasions, with the juveniles the really keen beans and the main visitors. There have been a number of occasions when two birds have been feeding at the same time and there appears to be a degree of tolerance between these though as soon as they get too close to each other they try and see the other off. There is a third juvenile which I suspect is from a different family, as every time this bird appears when one or both of the others are present, it is agressively seen off and when feeding alone is a lot more alert and nervous.

What's been a real bonus is the fact that the juvenile birds have been regular visitors allowing for plenty of photographic opportunities. This has allowed me to get a variety of images with the woodpeckers in various poses although I still feel there is a lot more potential so this is very much a work in progress update. Here are a few woodpecker images from the last few weeks:

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

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker

To add more variety to the location, a reflection pool is being set up on site too and this is an ongoing process. Initially, it was relatively straightforward although getting the height of the pool and distance from the hide has been a little trickier to judge. The pool went ‘live’ on the 2nd August and as expected it took a few days for the birds to get used to the set-up. However, it is now being regularly used and it could produce some fantastic images. The test images show great promise so it’s a case of being patient and hoping for the best. I plan on writing a more in-depth blog about how we went about getting this built but in the meantime here is a taster of what's to come:

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker

It hasn't just been Great Spotted Woodpeckers that have been taking advantage of the location. Last week, rather unexpectedly, a juvenile Green Woodpecker dropped in and spent twenty minutes or so probing the grass for nourishment. My position in the hide meant I was shooting down on this colourful bird which I would have avoided if possible but I was nonetheless delighted to have this elusive young woodpecker in front of me.

Green WoodpeckerGreen Woodpecker

Aside from the bevvy of woodpeckers, I've been enjoying frequent visits from a pair of Nuthatches. As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I love these little birds and they've provided ample entertainment as usual. Their agile movement and speed is always a fun challenge but I've had a few successful moments whilst sat in the hide.

NuthatchNuthatch

As we move closer to winter I've no doubt that the feeding station will get busier and this will hopefully result in a few more species popping in as well as a few more opportunities to get the woodpeckers in some different poses. It's been a blast so far and a refreshing reminder about just how satisfying spending time with birds can be, especially when they're as charismatic as those mentioned in this post. The butterfly season is pretty much over so I'll be spending more and more time looking for birds and have a few things in mind for the next few months, including a trip to the Isles of Scilly at the end of September for a weeks holiday. Be rude not to the camera, wouldn't it? 

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Birds Dendrocopos major Feeding Station Great Spotted Woodpecker Green Woodpecker Hide Nature Nikon D800 Picus viridis Wildlife Photography Woodpecker Woodpeckers https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/8/woodpeckers Tue, 25 Aug 2015 11:55:44 GMT
The Marbled White https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/6/marbled-mayhem Daneway Banks here in Gloucestershire is an absolute gem of a nature reserve. Run by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and home of the very rare Large Blue butterfly, I'm extremely lucky to live just a short drive away. As a result, I've spent most of my spare time wandering around the area for the last few weeks taking in the sights and along the way noticing how the environment is in a continual state of change. I've had so many brilliant moments and close encounters with the local wildlife. Foxes, deer, green woodpeckers, jays, a hobby, buzzards, common lizards and of course the main attraction, the butterflies. Work has meant I've made most of my visits in the early evening and whilst this means seeing the many species of butterfly active is not so easy, it does mean the site feels like my own little piece of paradise with the masses having departed.

The main crowd puller is the aforementioned Large Blue which has been successfully reintroduced to this site and it's been great seeing numbers build over the last few weeks. Initially, only one was being found per evening visit but that has risen to five over the last couple of days. Clearly there are many more than that but finding them is not easy given the number of areas to explore and their impressive ability to blend in with their surroundings unless seen from a certain angle. These aside, I have been drawn to another summer butterfly, the Marbled White (Melanargia Galathea). I recall Daneway Banks being a great place for these butterflies last year though during that time I was still getting to grips with my macro lens and decided to start again this year and am enjoying the process.

If you've visited my butterfly gallery you'll probably notice that the vast majority of my images feature butterflies at rest with their wings closed. I find the underwing detail fascinating and therefore love early morning or evening visits as these are the times when butterflies roost. This makes photography much easier as more often than not it is possible to find and approach subjects without them taking flight and disappearing into the distance. The roosting position also demonstrates the underwing so for me it's a win-win situation. What's more, it's sometimes easier to find butterflies during these times, particularly if they're roosting higher up on longer grass.

In terms of this year, I've been amazed at how many Marbled Whites are present. I've encountered a few gatherings of up to 10 butterflies on one plant - a really impressive sight. Their flight is what I'd describe as lazy, with their wings beating relatively slowly making them look almost puppet-like as they move low over the ground seeking meal or mate. When not active they can found at roost on almost any plant, though they tend to really favour Valerian, roosting on the flower heads. Over these past few weeks though I've found them on a huge variety of flowers and grasses.

In terms of identification, it's hard to mistake the Marbled White for any other UK species and the name is surely one of the most apt, given the white wings covered with a marble-like pattern with a number of 'eyes' containing a blue centre, with the blue varying in intensity. The sexes are also easy to distinguish, even more so when they are at rest. The male is, in simple terms, black and white, though the extent and shading of the black can vary from one butterfly to another, as can the size. I have found a few males that are almost half the size of others, though haven't yet got a shot to show this marked difference in size. The following selection of images are of a few different males:

Marbled WhiteMarbled White

The female of the species shows the same patterning however they exhibit a brown, almost orange, tinge as opposed to the black of their male counterparts. One thing I have noticed this year is that some of the females found are significantly more orange with this really standing out even from a distance. Below are some shots of a pair of relatively 'normal' females though the orangeness is there to be seen:

Marbled WhiteMarbled White

As well as the striking underwing, these butterflies have an impressive 'top-side' too and when viewed from above the sexes are slightly less obvious. I've managed one early morning visit to Daneway Banks so far this summer and was fortunate enough to find a female perched at a very convenient height and warming up in the warmth of the rising sun. It's often very difficult to get the whole butterfly in focus, with one or both wing-tips not in the focus plane. Shooting at an open aperture to create a nice clean background makes this even more of an issue but thankfully I was able to get everything I wanted in focus for a change, showing the stunning markings that define this common but beautiful British butterfly.  Marbled WhiteMarbled White

As always, thank you for reading!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Butterflies Butterfly Daneway Banks Gloucestershire Large Blue Macro Marbled White Nature Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/6/marbled-mayhem Thu, 25 Jun 2015 20:45:22 GMT
More Butterflies, Dragons and Damsels https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/6/more-butterflies-dragons-and-damsels Since my last blog post in early May I've been making the most of the improving weather with plenty of visits to local wildlife hot spots, focussing primarily on insects. I've had my fair share of success and have added a number of new images to my Butterflies and Macro galleries.

Things haven't been particularly easy at times given some very strong and persistent winds, which have proved a real hindrance to macro photography, even when visiting more sheltered locations. As usual though, patience has been key and I've had plenty of fun along the way with pleasing results. The Pearl-bordered Fritillary colony that I'd been visiting sadly hasn't had a great year (and now appears to have gone over) however in stark contrast the Marsh Fritillary colony has been brilliant. I've had a number of close encounters with Four-spotted Chasers over recent weeks, finding a real stronghold of these tough critters and also found a very obliging Red Eyed Damselfly. I've also been paying regular visits to Daneway Banks and have found plenty of Common Blues and Brown Argus though the star attraction, the Large Blue, is still yet to emerge. Not long to wait though...

Here are a few of my favourites from the last few weeks:

Brown ArgusBrown ArgusBrown Argus: A fresh individual roosting up during an overcast afternoon visit to Daneway Banks. Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary: A chance encounter with a cracking butterfly. This particular one seemed very settled and thankfully stayed still just long enough. Common BlueCommon BlueA roosting Common Blue found at Daneway Banks. Again, taken on an overcast day. Marsh FritillaryMarsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary: A stunning individual found roosting at Strawberry Banks during an evening visit. I've not really spent any significant time on the birding front with the exception of the local Hobbies which have been as spectacular as ever though getting decent shots has again evaded me. I've not dedicated as much time to them as I perhaps should've done but the time I have spent watching them has been awesome, especially with them hawking at such close quarters. I did have a trip to Farmoor, which led to a brilliant spell with a Ringed Plover. I managed to gain the trust of this smart little wader which came so close  that I had 10 minutes with it too close to focus on. No complaint though as it was a magical moment allowing me to just sit and watch whilst it occasionally called and preened. A real treat.

Ringed PloverRinged Plover The next few weeks should see increasing activity on the butterfly front with the Large Blue and Marbled White two of the species I'm most looking forward to seeing. I'll no doubt get distracted by plenty of other bits and bobs but that's all part of the fun. Nothing beats going out exploring and not knowing what lies in wait!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Brown Argus Butterflies Butterfly Common Blue Damselfly Daneway Banks Dragonfly Four-spotted Chaser Gloucestershire Insects Macro Marsh Fritllary Nikon D800 Photography Strawberry Banks https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/6/more-butterflies-dragons-and-damsels Sun, 07 Jun 2015 20:46:30 GMT
Fantastic Fritillaries https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/5/fantastic-fritillaries As mentioned in my last blog post, I've felt spoiled for choice over recent weeks with plenty off great wildlife on offer locally. With a day off on Friday, I had decided in advance to spend the morning looking for something that hasn't been seen so far this year in the county (at least to my knowledge) rather than go for something more 'guaranteed'. A bit of a gamble if you will.

So, after a very late night seeing the initial election results come in, it was a struggle to get up but I was feeling eager to make the most of my time and found myself walking in Cirencester Park at 8am. I had the place to myself but given the dull, overcast conditions this wasn't a surprise. I was here for the Pearl-bordered Fritillary - a declining species in the UK - that has a fairly good population in the park. They have been reported elsewhere in the country (including up north) so I was hopeful that their emergence would be soon. I spent a good 2 hours in two different locations and despite looking everywhere in these areas I was unsuccessful in finding any butterflies. Disappointing, but I was chancing my luck anyway and I would have regretted not looking.

Given the overcast conditions, I decided to head back towards the Cotswold Water Park and having found a Broad-bodied Chaser a few days ago thought I'd have a look for that, given their tendency to not venture far from their territory. Incredibly, after only 10 minutes, I located the chaser roosting on a dried stem. The cool conditions meant it was incredibly docile and I managed some pleasing shots, despite an annoying breeze.

Saturday dawned cloudy and fairly chilly again with a fair bit of breeze. I contemplated a visit to the local Hobbies but the sun was making a few intermittent appearances and felt very warm when the wind dropped so I opted for another return to Cirencester Park hopeful that the warmth of the sun might just be strong enough to trigger an emergence of Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. Walking down one of the rides, surrounded by bluebells and birdsong, with the sun out and feeling glorious, I had a real twinge of hope that today might just be the day.

I ventured off the main path into one of the clearings that I'd always had success in and nearly jumped with joy as an orange blur zipped low over the woodland floor just in front of me. I had found one! However, it wasn't hanging around and took some effort to track before it landed on some nearby bugle; the main food plant of these wonderful butterflies. I tried to get my macro lens out of my bag quickly to grab a record shot but in the few seconds I took my off the prize it moved on. Undeterred, I moved on excited that an emergence was underway and confident that further treasures lay ahead. It was another 15 minutes or so before a second PBF was seen, shooting up off some drying bracken almost under my feet. I'd disturbed it basking so focussed my efforts on the ground and immediately found another. Fantastic! In all, during a few hours on site, I saw around 5 or 6 individuals including a few roosting on pine buds. I later learnt that this was what they tended to do when cool and in need of a rest. A useful piece of knowledge, as you'll soon see. That aside, the star of the show was a fresh male resting on a fern shoot - the money shot I had been aiming for! I could not believe my luck. I was even able to set-up my tripod to get really go for a super sharp low ISO shot. The results below will be hard to beat and I'm incredibly proud to have these images in my portfolio. The fact that I found this butterfly myself and a site so close to home really did round off a perfect moment.

Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary After another sunny spell, this stunning butterfly ascended from its perch and disappeared low into another more distant pocket of cleared woodland. I'd hit the jackpot and hadn't felt such a buzz for a very long time.

The following day, Dad and I returned for more of the same. The weather, however, had other ideas. Thick cloud and a stiff breeze ruled out seeing any butterflies on the wing and after a very long search over a good few hours we only managed to find one PBF roosting on a pine sapling. I wouldn't have found this one had I not picked up on the pine-bud roosting tip from the day before. This find was great but after the day I'd had before felt a little disappointing as I was hoping we'd find a few more. A while later though, our fortunes changed and I managed more shots which I'm really pleased with thanks to an immaculate PBF roosting low down on a rigid shoot.

Pearl-bordered FritillaryPearl-bordered Fritillary

Monday sadly saw me return to reality and work. Dad however had the day off and decided on a visit to the Strawberry Banks reserve. This is a stronghold of the beautiful Marsh Fritillary and with sightings already reported the chances of them being seen was good, especially with warm sunshine for much of the day. A phone call to Dad after work confirmed the fritillaries were indeed emerging so I made a mad dash over there via Frampton Mansell and some very windy, narrow roads; getting there with the sun still relatively high in the sky. Walking up through Three Groves Wood, the smell of wild garlic was a welcome tonic after a busy day. Even more welcome was the sight of 5 or 6 orange butterflies almost straight away after entering the main field. Closer inspection confirmed my expectations - my first Marsh Fritillary of the year was (figuratively) in the bag! I'd heard that 2015 could be a strong year for this butterfly and on the sightings so early on, this could be well founded. Huge praise must go to Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust for the management of this site as it is clearly working wonders! During the next hour or so I lost count of how many fritillaries I found, with many fresh individuals pumping their wings low in the grass. I had to keep a real eye on where I was standing so as to avoid causing any untimely and immature deaths. Getting nice clean photographs proved really tricky though as most of the butterflies were low in the grass though I did find one individual on a cleaner stem which stayed still long enough for a few shots.

Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary Not an underwing shot that I was really hoping for I couldn't complain as I had the place to myself, surrounded by butterflies and it was bliss. The sun soon started dropping behind the surrounded wood, casting a deep and ever-growing shadow over the grassy slopes. This caused an obvious change in temperature and I kept my eyes peeled for some early roosters. Lots found in the grass but none in the open. I moved to a different area which was a lot more sheltered and my luck changed with a fritillary found resting on an Early Purple Orchid. 

Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary I left shortly afterwards with time pressing on and the light continuing to fade. All in all I'd had a fantastic couple of days. Time spent in the field last year felt frustrating at times from a photography perspective with not many images obtained that really pleased me however in hindsight that time has proved invaluable. I have a much better understanding of habitats, flight cycles, foodplants and roosting habits and this has allowed me to get a number of really satisfying images which I'm genuinely proud of. The season is still very young so I aim to add to my portfolio over the coming months with no doubt more blog posts of this nature to come. I must finally add that I have spent a lot more time this year looking at these butterflies through my own eyes rather than solely through the viewfinder of my camera - something that really must be done to appreciate the scale, intricacy and fragility of these short-lived winged wonders. They really are gems that I cannot get enough of!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Broad-bodied Chaser Butterfly Cirencester Park Cotswolds D800 Fern Macro Marsh Fritillary Orchid Pearl-bordered Fritillary Strawberry Banks https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/5/fantastic-fritillaries Tue, 12 May 2015 19:40:10 GMT
Grass Snakes Galore https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/5/grasssnakesgalore Like a box of chocolates, this time of year offers a bit of everything when it comes to wildlife. Spring migration has really kicked in with new birds arriving all over the place including Wheatears, Cuckoos, Swallows, Warblers and most recently Hobbies. Add to these the first butterflies of the year which have been on the wing for a few weeks along with the first dragonflies emerging and it really is a case of too much choice!

As a wannabe wildlife photographer, and an indecisive one at that, I've found myself spending most of the time wondering just where to go and what to focus on. During the winter months I opted for a project approach, which worked really well. Over recent months I've been doing a fair bit of macro work, in particular focusing on a local population of Grass Snakes (latin name 'Natrix natrix).  I'm a huge admirer of snakes, having got a Corn Snake as a pet some 20 years ago. Believe it or not, the scaled superstar is still going strong today! Back to the wild variety though, after finding a freshly emerged individual at a site a while back I've put down some additional refugia (felt and tin sheeting) at that location and have been monitoring it a few times a week. I have now found a minimum of 7 different individuals during the last month or so, of varying sizes and colouration but most tending to be younger snakes. It's been great to see the refugia working and providing a safe haven for these great reptiles and I've enjoyed getting to know them. There have been a number of occasions where the nettles and grass in front of me have burst into life as as a retreating snake has moved off at haste as well as the odd tail disappearing into darkness at the edge of cover, with each moment an indicator of a thriving population.

For those not familiar with Grass Snakes, they are one of the three resident species of snake here in the UK (Adder and Smooth Snake being the other two) and are the most common of the three. They tend to favour wetland areas but can be found in a range of habitats including heathland. My first memory of seeing a Grass Snake in the wild was when one swam across a local canal we were walking along. It wasn't a prolonged sighting but was nevertheless exciting. I can't remember the first time I held one but I can remember the smell! When threatened, these reptiles have two defence mechanisms. The first is to play dead, with the body turned upside down and the mouth gaping open capped off with the tongue hanging out. The smellier defence tactic is the excretion of a rancid smelling substance (almost like faeces) which absolutely reeks. I've found out first hand that the smell is stubborn and takes a fair bit of washing to get rid of!!

Over the last month or so, I've managed to get a variety of shots of a few individuals and have always had success on cooler days with intermittent sunny spells, which tempts the snakes out of cover for some basking action.

Grass SnakeGrass Snake

When shooting these gorgeous creatures I've tried a number of things to get images that capture their beauty. The coiled shots above are my personal favourites, and  I've tired to capture that air-tasting moment when the forked tongue is flicked out. Depth of field has proved tricky, and I've more often than not found I've had to compromise on extra detail in order to keep the background as clutter free as possible. Light has also been a pivotal factor in the overall appearance of the final image, with duller days giving a softer feel. One consistent method employed during this mini-project has been getting down as low as possible for that eye-level perspective that is so crucial for intimate shots. This has often resulted in going face to face with an inquisitive chap, as shown below....

It won't be long before the breeding season gets going so this project has now come to an end until the autumn to avoid any disturbance to mating pairs and pregnant females. I'm hopeful of a successful summer in terms of eggs as the area has plenty of excellent compost heaps consisting of grass cuttings and other waste vegetation, perfect for generating and holding heat which effectively incubates the eggs. I won't be looking for these but will certainly keep an eye open for youngsters, though I doubt I'll ever repeat last years uber lucky moment of finding a tiny little snake (no longer than a pencil) coiled up in a fairly open spot. A very slow, patient and uncomfortable approach resulted in a few good frames including my favourite reptile image I've taken to date.

Grass SnakeGrass Snake If you're interested in taking photos of snakes, please be VERY careful. Handling them is allowed by law but given their fragile bone structure this should be avoided unless you know what you're doing. Good field craft will get you as close as you need to be without unnecessary disturbance. You should also be certain that your subject is not an Adder as they are venomous and can give a nasty bite if cornered. They'll only strike if evasion isn't an option and will more than likely make for cover as soon as they detect disturbance but if you are fortunate to find one keep a safe distance. Another key thing to be aware of is that Adders are really struggling at the moment due to habitat loss and persecution so photography should be as respectful as possible. A great blog post covering this can be found here, written by Brett Lewis and frequently tweeted by ARGS UK, a conservation group dedicated to looking out for reptiles and amphibians.

As always, thanks for reading and if you have any comments then please get in touch below.

 

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(Dave Collins Photography) Grass Snake Macro Natrix natrix Photography Reptile Snake Tongue https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/5/grasssnakesgalore Sat, 09 May 2015 21:31:58 GMT
Wheatear Wonderland https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/4/wheatear-wonderland With the evenings now light enough for some post-work birding & photography I decided to make the most of the decent weather we've been having and have a look around Blakehill on Thursday evening. Migration seems to be really kicking in now. Swallows, Ring Ouzels, Wheatears, Ospreys, Warblers of various sorts....the list of new arrivals over recent days goes on! I managed to get to the reserve at around 17:30 and when getting to the top track had a quick scan around. I could hear plenty of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks but the first bird I actually set eyes on was a Short-eared Owl! I really thought they'd have moved North to their breeding territories by now but this one clearly had other ideas. A great and most welcome surprise. This was immediately followed by another unexpected moment as turning around to carry on down the track I saw a Stoat shoot across into the long grass adjacent to the track. It didn't make another appearance but was nice to see.

The main event didn't take too much longer to materialise as about 300 metres further down the track I noticed a few familiar looking birds on the ground in one of the sheep paddocks. Getting a little closer I was able to count four Wheatears - my first of the year and a real treat as they were all males and each one looked magnificent. Unfortunately I was facing into the sun so had to take a long detour around the tracks to get into a more photo-friendly position. Thankfully they'd remained in the same place whilst I'd been making my way around and I spent a good 10 minutes or so just watching them feeding on flies. They did this by making mini sprints before eating their prey. They were more often than not on alert, taking an upright position as if standing to attention. They tended to do this when stood on the closest patch of raised ground, as if the few extra inches would give them an improved view of their surroundings. I moved in closer and got some excellent views however I was hand-holding my gear in a crouched position so getting a sharp shot proved tricky, despite the bright conditions. I managed to get within 10 feet of one bird but as I led down and got stable it opted to move a bit further away with its back to me. Typical. The birds soon moved over towards a fence, frequently dropping to the floor to feed and popping back up onto either the barbed-wire or the fenceposts running alongside the track. A patient and slow approach allowed me to get pretty close to one bird in particular. Whilst he was facing away from me, he did oblige with a number of head turns allowing for my best Wheatear images to date. They are spectacular looking birds in my opinion and I'm sure I'll be going back for more over the next few days!

WheatearWheatear WheatearWheatear

 

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(Dave Collins Photography) Bird Photography Blakehill Migration Short-eared Owl Spring Wheatear Wiltshire Wildlife Trust https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/4/wheatear-wonderland Thu, 09 Apr 2015 21:58:09 GMT
Frogs and Toads https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/4/frogs-and-toads The Easter Bank Holiday weekend has been and gone but four days off work meant plenty of time to get out and explore. The time off was a mixed bag. I was really hoping to find a snake or two and whilst I did achieve this, I'm sad to say my only success was finding a dead Grass Snake. Judging by its size I'd guess it was around 2 or 3 years old. I felt a huge buzz of excitement when I first caught sight of it but that quickly turned to sadness when I realised it had been attacked and killed by something. Such a shame and it left me feeling very despondent. Such is the circle of life though, as harsh as it can be. This disappointment was repeated on Bank Holiday Monday when Dad and I went searching for Adders. The site we chose to explore used to be a haven for this much-feared but shy reptile and we recounted numerous memories from my childhood of snakes shooting off into the gorse left, right and centre. How times have changed. Not a single snake found. Maybe we were unlucky, but four hours of searching a relatively small area suggested otherwise.

On a brighter note, I saw some great birds including the now infamous Red-necked Grebe residing at Farmoor, a cracking drake Garganey and my first Osprey over English soil. Closer to home, the local amphibian population seems to be booming! Throughout the weekend I found countless toads of varying size, with a few mating pairs included in the count. I also found a handful of frogs - the first I'd seen out of water for what feels like years! I'd forgotten just how charming they are and made the most of the opportunity with plenty of photos taken. The macro lens got a really good workout and given such photogenic subjects so close to hand, I had a thoroughly good time trying to do these boggle-eyed beauties justice, with various shooting angles experimented with. I didn't bother with a tripod for any of my shots, instead opting for the flexibility offered by hand-holding. I got very wet and muddy, but given the practice I'd had during my time over the winter with the Water Rails, I didn't complain. The light varied considerably with this really defining how the final images appeared. Bright but hazy conditions were my personal preference with the frog images having a nice 'pop' to them, whereas dull conditions led to much 'flatter' results. Below are a few of the many images I came home with, illustrating the range in lighting encountered. I don't currently use any artificial lighting or reflectors for my macro work but that is something I'm hoping to play with soon. In the meantime, for more images of these water loving critters, check out my new 'Amphibians' gallery.  

Common FrogCommon Frog Common FrogCommon Frog Common ToadCommon Toad Common ToadCommon Toad

Looking ahead to the next month or so, I'm already getting very excited by the imminent butterfly season. The warm weather over the last couple of days has triggered an apparent explosion of some species, with Peacocks seemingly everywhere. I've also seen good numbers of Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells and Commas. Top of the list though is the Marsh Fritillary colony at Strawberry Banks and the Pearl-bordered Fritillary colony in Cirencester Park. My main aim are some underwing shots and with both species normally on the wing in mid-May, I haven't got too long to wait! Until then, I'm hoping to get back to birds, with spring migration hopefully soon to really kick-in and deliver some nice rarities!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Amphibians Easter Frogs Macro Toads https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/4/frogs-and-toads Tue, 07 Apr 2015 21:06:41 GMT
A Day In The Forest https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/3/a-day-in-the-forest The Forest of Dean has been very popular of late and for good reason. Hawfinches, a Great Grey Shrike (or two?), Crossbills (including infrequent sightings of a Two-Barred Crossbill), Wild Boar, Lesser-Spotted Woodpeckers and Goshawks are all up for grabs. It would be a rather special day if all were seen in one visit! That didn't happen to me before you think I hit the jackpot. No, my most recent visit was a very relaxed affair with no real targets in mind though any of the above would obviously be nice.

The drive there was as straight forward as usual although the road verges adjacent to the River Severn were very busy with parked cars and an awful lot of people, present to see the Severn Bore. Not something that has ever really appealed personally but judging by the number of people present it is clearly a crowd puller for spectators as well as surfers.

Once arriving in the forest, we started off with a quick visit to New Fancy View. The skies weren't as blue as forecast and during the time we were there no Goshawks were seen. The viewing platform was rammed and being scope-less we opted to move on and have a look in at Parkend. Again, rammed. A birding group were present  and stood in the clearing by the favoured Yew trees so the chance of Hawfinches on the deck was slim to none. I did have a possible sighting at the far end but it wasn't conclusive. Hopefully the visiting birders had more luck. We decided to make a loop of things and that took us to Cannop Ponds next. The feeding station was as busy as ever but was already being staked out by a photographer so we parked up in the main car park and walked around the upper pond. 

During previous visits here, one bird that I've repeatedly failed to get a photo of is the Mandarin. Cannop Ponds has a seemingly resident population though I've always found them to be very skittish. The drakes are absolutely stunning birds with almost every colour of the rainbow represented in their plumage. For once there were a few pairs close in on the upper pond though I was not expecting them to stay close given past experiences. True to form, as soon as I got set up and ready, they moved off. A bit of patience though and they soon settled and came back towards the lake edge. I got some 'ok' shots but knew I could do better. A bit further along the bank a group of mallards, coots and a handful of mandarins were feeding on some discarded bread. I moved along and got low down and managed to get some much better images. I really wanted to get super low but that simply wasn't possible given the height of the bank and depth of the water. Some chest waders would've been ideal but beggers can't be choosers and I walked away very happy with what I'd shot. Below are a few of my favourites.

MandarinMandarin MandarinMandarin MandarinMandarin MandarinMandarin

The walk around the rest of the lake was very pleasant, helped by some very warm spring sunshine. The feeding station was still a hive of activity and by now there was room to pull the car up alongside and shoot from the comfort of the passenger window. My soft spot for Nuthatches hasn't waned and I was delighted to have plenty of opportunities to shoot these nippy little birds as they flew in and raided the peanuts. Other visitors to the feeding station included Blue, Coal, Great and Marsh Tits, Robins, Dunnocks, a male Reed Bunting, a Blackbird and a few Chaffinches. The Nuthatches stole the show though and posed nicely if albeit very briefly!

NuthatchNuthatch

NuthatchNuthatch

Despite being more than happy to stay put, time was getting on and we still had to complete our loop with a walk around Crabtree Hill. By now the sun was beating down and I knew I'd regret wearing my coat but that didn't detract from a great 90 minutes or so. The heath area looked ideal for Adders but we didn't find any though a Common Lizard was a nice surprise. As we neared the higher ground I noticed a gentleman across the scrub and out of curiosity had a better look with my bins. He was taking a photo of something and at first I thought he was shooting at the ground. I then noticed the Great Grey Shrike perched just in front of him. From here it looked like it was showing stupidly well so we made our way to that area. The shrike wasn't as close as I thought but was still close enough for some fabulous views. I couldn't however get a decent shot due to the heat haze coming up off the scrub. I didn't mind though as it was a real privilege to have such amazing views of a spectacular bird. After 20 minutes or so it undulated away and alighted at the top of a Birch tree. Incredibly, we were able to stand right underneath it and it didn't flinch. It really was close and looked fantastic against a deep blue sky. A real treat and a great way to end a superb day!

Great Grey ShrikeGreat Grey Shrike

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(Dave Collins Photography) Birding Birds Cannop Ponds Crabtree Hill Forest of Dean Gloucestershire Great Grey Shrike Mandarin Nuthatch Photography Wildlife https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/3/a-day-in-the-forest Tue, 24 Mar 2015 19:10:10 GMT
Dippers https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/3/dippers I feel like I've had a frustrating few weeks of late. The weather hasn't lent itself to photography and when the sun has decided to show itself I've been at work. I'm getting used to the predictability of this happening but it is still a real pain! This weekend has been a mixed bag with Saturday spent close to home with, unfortunately, diddly squat of interest seen other than the first Sand Martins of the year over Lakeside in the Cotswold Water Park. On Sunday, with Wheatears already being reported in the southern half of the country, I decided to have a scan of Minchinhampton Common on my way over to see my parents. I gave myself a good 20 minutes to scout a few areas but with a bitterly cold wind buffeting me whenever I got out of the car I unsurprisingly departed without a Wheatear seen. If they have already arrived locally they may have been hunkered down waiting for a calmer interlude. Who knows.

After wishing my mum a happy Mother's Day, dad and I took a short drive down to Capel Mill in the hope of catching up the resident Dippers. They're normally very reliable at this location and have been seen throughout the week so I was confident of seeing them. Getting some photos would depend on the light being kind enough and the Dippers being as confiding as usual. Almost as soon as I had set up in my usual spot I heard the distinctive call of a Dipper coming upstream towards me. It landed right in front of me but spent the whole two minutes it was present staring right at me so I remained still so it could get comfortable with my presence. It soon departed continuing upstream. A short time later two Dippers came back downstream, both calling, but carried on straight past me.

Patience pays with these birds and lo and behold it wasn't long before I had another bird in front of my lens. It was using the same rock and was perched on exactly the same spot so presumably the same bird as earlier though now it seemed a lot more relaxed and even treated us to a few minutes of singing. As with most streams on which Dippers tend to reside, the banks are tree-lined with plenty of overhanging foliage. Great for providing cover and great for blocking out light. Even during winter. I've never previously managed anything close to a keeper from this location, mainly due to the lack of light but today's plan would hopefully rectify that. I didn't want to bump the iso too high as any images would include large dark areas which show up noise like there's no tomorrow. The D800 copes well with high iso but I wanted something nice and clean and as I was shooting at a static bird I wouldn't need a high shutter speed as long there was minimal movement so I opted to keep the iso at around 640 combined with the camera's timer to avoid vibration caused by me manually pressing the shutter. I still haven't got a shutter release cable but this will be rectified asap as it will also help with my forthcoming macro projects. A few test shots to get the exposure right and we were off. I even shot a bit of video!

DipperDipper

DipperDipper DipperDipper

An enjoyable little session that resulted in my best Dipper images to date and also included sightings of a Kingfisher, a Grey Wagtail, two Treecreepers and a female Sparrowhawk hot on the proverbial heels of a Magpie. Judging by the brief glimpse we got, the Magpie looked to be in trouble. Good to get out and find a slightly rarer subject. There are only so many shots of a Mallard one can take! Have a good week folks!

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(Dave Collins Photography) Birds Dipper Dippers River https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/3/dippers Sun, 15 Mar 2015 20:17:07 GMT
St David's Day https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/3/st-davids-day  March 1st is a special day. It's the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales. It's also the day on which my parents got married. Remarkably, this year is their 40th wedding anniversary so as is only fitting, we had a surprise family lunch arranged at a very nice pub in the Cotswolds. This meant I had a few hours in the morning to venture out with my camera before we settled down to celebrate. Recent weeks have been extremely frustrating from a photography perspective. I've seen some superb birds, including my first ever Bramblings, with a Goshawk also seen relatively close to home. However, sightings aside and despite a few sessions locally, I haven't taken a pleasing photo for what feels like an eternity, hence the lack of blog posts. Given my limited time today I opted to stay very close to home and check out a few of lakes within the Cotswold Water Park. I'd visited one spot the day previously and had a lot of fun with the many gulls residing on that lake, including a juvenile Common Gull which caught my eye and posed nicely, though the light was pretty dire.

Common Gull (juvenile)Common Gull (juvenile)Dim and dreary light didn't help but I couldn't resist getting a few images of this charming gull. It stood out thanks to the dark bill-tip and grey/blue leg coloration.

Common Gull (juvenile)Common Gull (juvenile)A closer frame of the head and torso.

Back to Sunday, I arrived at the lake at just before 10am and had the car park pretty much to myself. I made the most of it being quiet and put down some seed hoping to lure the Bullfinches down but the Mallards and corvids wolfed down most of what was available. I had hoped on getting some shots of the Carrion Crows and Magpies but the light was too harsh for anything tip top so I gave up after a while. I did however take advantage of a drake Mallard who was begging to have his photo taken.

MallardMallard

I soon switched my attention to the gulls. There were plenty of adult Common Gulls present but they seemed a little warier than their black-headed relatives who were clearly more used to the offerings chucked out by local visitors. Almost every time a car arrived the gulls would rise from their resting places in case an easy meal was to be found. This made photography easy as just the sound of food hitting the water was enough to pull in a good number of birds. With a handful of bird seed chucked out, in came the gulls. I fired off a few frames but wanted something a little different. The wind strength meant the gulls were having to make aggressive turns to come back in to feed, often banking with their wings and tails fully spread. With a bit of dark cloud moving over I was able to get a nice image of a gull 'fully spread' against a nice contrasting sky.

Black Headed GullBlack Headed GullA fast turn and swoop for food caught against some rain-filled clouds. Time was getting on so I opted to leave things there and head back via another lake just up the road. To cut a long story short, I saw nothing of interest until I got to the far corner - pretty much the last remaining visible part of the lake before routing back to the car park. Here, two Great Crested Grebes had just stopped displaying. I watched from a distance in case they started again but they seemed more intent on seeing off an encroaching Red Crested Pochard. I made my way down to the waters edge and was surprised to find one of the grebes heading towards me, seemingly interested in what I was doing. I quickly got my camera and bean bag ready and laid down on my awesome tarpaulin and clicked away. It didn't come in as close as I was hoping and was in shadow for this time so I waited for it to drift back into the sunlight before getting a few shots.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested GrebeSeeing these birds displaying is a sure sign that spring is in the air. That was the end of a fairly entertaining few hours under clear blue sky. Whilst it would've been nice to have been pointing my lens at something more exciting it was great to be out with my camera shutter actually being used! With the evenings getting lighter it won't be long before I'll be able to make use of the time after work. I'm already counting down the days until the first batch of butterflies emerge and am also looking at more reptilian action this year. Then there are the spring migrants yet to arrive. Suddenly things are looking up!

 

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(Dave Collins Photography) Cotswold Water Park Grebes Gulls Mallard March Nikon D800 Photography Spring https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/3/st-davids-day Sun, 01 Mar 2015 20:10:00 GMT
Time for a change https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/2/time-for-a-change For those of you who have visited my website before, you'll notice that things look a little different! I've decided to move on from the previous site host as the limitations of the package I had subscribed to were increasingly frustrating and I also lost access to my galleries just after Christmas for no obvious reason. The solution suggested by the host provider was an additional fee per month, which I obviously wasn't happy about, so I've opted to vote with my feet, looking at what else was available and here we are!

The new site follows a similar layout in terms of navigation so no major changes there, however it offers much more control over things and will hopefully be much quicker and user friendly. It's still very early days and I'm therfore building up my galleries with those images I feel warrant inclusion. Hopefully things will be moved over fairly quickly.

I'm hoping to transfer my previous blog posts across too as and when I get the chance but posting new updates and images will take precedence. I'm also determined to post more regularly to reflect on time spent in the field.

Futhermore, I'm planning on adding some additional content in due course, potentially including some hints and tips. Being self-taught means I've had to learn from experience whilst also experimenting with tips passed on by others as well as useful ones picked up elsewhere including online resources.

Finally, I'm delighted to say that my images can now be purchased online on this very website. I'm still fine-tuning this side of things so please bear with me. Any feedback at all though is most welcome.

Best wishes,

Dave

 

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(Dave Collins Photography) https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/2/time-for-a-change Tue, 17 Feb 2015 20:41:10 GMT
Project Water Rail https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/2/project-water-rail Introduction

Rallus Aquaticas. More commonly known as the Water Rail. An elusive bird that is more often heard than seen and when one does reveal itself it is usually a fleeting glimpse as cover is quickly sought. The Water Rail is not a rare bird as such but is likewise not common. Find the right habitat though and you have a good chance of seeing one. I can still recall the first time I heard one. A gradually fading pig-like squeal emanating from a deep reed bed. At the time, being new to such sounds, I wondered what it could be but it was so distinctive that I was quickly able to identify it later that evening thanks to the helpful power of the web.

Here in Gloucestershire there are a number of reliable sites where these enigmatic birds can be found. Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust tends to be a safe bet in the winter months with at least one bird often foraging in the open under the feeders at the willow hide. Closer to home, the Cotswold Water Park has a seemingly good population with sightings reported on a regular basis.

It was during a spur of the moment visit to a local site that a Water Rail popped out onto the path in front of me. I managed to get a few frames before it darted off into the undergrowth having detected my presence and whilst the results were alright, it got me thinking about a new project.

Arriving home later that day I had a little look into what images of Water Rail were already out there and was quite surprised that there weren't as many really impressive shots as I was expecting, at least based on my relatively limited search. Whilst surprised I was also a little excited. With a reliable site close to home and Water Rail normally seen and almost always heard this was a great chance to try and get some decent images of a very shy bird. With winter in full swing the timing was perfect. I was keen to have something accessible, happy to take on something relatively challenging and that’s how my addiction to Water Rail and this project began.

Logistics / Gear

Prior to my first dedicated session I was pretty sure of a couple of things. Firstly, I wanted shots from a low angle. Most of the shots I'd seen of Water Rail were taken looking down on the bird, primarily due to photos being taken from hides. Great wildlife photographs tend to be taken at eye level with the subject as this gives a far greater feeling of intimacy. It also offers the benefit of a smoother bokeh depending on a combination of the focal distance of the bird, the background and the photographer. Secondly, and tied in with the first, I was likely to get wet. After all, the name of my subject intimates the habitat and the location I had in mind is often prone to flooding with dry land at a premium. Therefore some decent water proof clothes and preferably something to lie on would be required. Thirdly, I had a couple of particular images in mind; one being very dependent on the weather but others more attainable, subject to the birds actually appearing.

In terms of the gear I would be using for this project, I planned on utilising as much of my normal set-up as possible with a few additions including a something to lie on (and hopefully keep me dry), lots of layers including waterproofs, wellington boots & gloves. I opted against my bag hide given my low profile, hoping this would sufficiently distort my shape with my face for the most part hidden behind the camera. Previous experience of such low level shooting suggested the bag hide would be more of a hindrance than a help. As long as I remained still I was confident of getting some reasonably close shots.
 

So, how did it go?

You may now be wondering how things went. If you’ve visited my ‘Rails’ gallery you’ll already know! In a few words, it went very well! I undertook a number of visits of varying length and of those only a small number were a disappointment where I had very little activity. During one of those quieter sessions, one bird did come out into the open in perfect light but I was too busy getting something out of my pocket to get a shot. So typical, so frustrating but just one of those things. I did however learn a great deal in a very short period of time.

My first session was an early morning one on a very cold and frosty day. As I’d hoped, the Water Rail were very active. I located myself against some vegetation and was in a crouched position with my camera mounted on a tripod with the lens probably around a foot or so above the ground. In terms of the results, at the time I was very happy but hindsight and subsequent results have changed my view of those early shots. More often than not the birds were in shadow due to both the brightness and position of the sun. I’d also slightly underestimated exposures due to my shooting angle, which occasionally meant I had a dark bird against a very light background. Rookie stuff but easily remedied. The biggest positive was how close the birds were coming. An encouraging start.

My second session was much better in terms of results, but less so in terms of activity. It was again relatively early but a lot milder. I decided against the tripod, instead using a bean bag. The lower angle meant I needed to lie down, so I used an old horse rug kindly donated by my partner as a groundsheet. I was as usual in waterproofs (a necessity given the amount of flooding at the spot I’d be shooting from). I’d also dialled in my settings following the previous issues and decided to shoot using 9 focal points rather than the single point I’d gone for last time. With the birds more isolated from their surroundings, this would give me more flexibility in getting the bird correctly composed in camera when they ran across the open channel area they favoured.

Water RailWater RailThis image was captured as the Water Rail was making a quick dash from one set of reeds to another. The motion blur in the legs shows the speed at which the bird was moving.

The third session was the least successful to date and started early afternoon on a fairly cold day. There was very little activity with the exception of a couple of joggers going past. I didn’t keep a single frame from this session which was a shame. I felt a little frustrated afterwards but given how things had gone so far I was soon counting down the days until my next visit.

My fourth visit was on Christmas Eve and we were due to travel up to Lincolnshire just after lunch to visit relatives so my time was very limited. The horse-rug option was out as it was drying from the previous visit so I opted for a bin bag ripped down the sides. No protection from the cold ground, but a surprisingly water-tight solution. It did not however protect my right arm which ended up in water for most of the time. Not comfortable but thankfully the Water Rail did more than enough to distract me. Within 10 minutes of getting set up and led-down I had a very showy bird pop out about 15 feet in front of me and begin feeding along the water’s edge. It was very bold and came fairly close before disappearing into the undergrowth. I thought the results would be ok but before I had any time to check another bird emerged from the vegetation I was lying against. The light was fantastic and the bird was not at all concerned by my presence, assuming it was even aware I was there. Initially I couldn’t get any shots – the bird was that close that it was within the minimum focussing distance of my lens. Nothing to be done other than watch and enjoy. It hit me just how lucky I was to be so close to such a shy bird. It eventually moved a little further away allowing me to start shooting. It stayed out in the open for a good five minutes, venturing directly to my right to such an extent that I couldn’t move for risk of scaring it off. I again just watched before it moved back into the reeds and then back across the channel to where it had come from. It emerged a few times after this offering exceptional views. So close that only a headshot was possible. Frame-filling Water Rail? Mission accomplished!

Water RailWater Rail

Just after Christmas I had my final visit of 2014 and again got some good results. I had to wait an hour or so for the first bird to appear but it gave me some great opportunities in wonderful light. It also led to a close-up head shot which was an almost carbon copy of one I got during my Christmas Eve visit – almost everything was identical. That hasn’t happened before!

Water RailWater Rail

I'd by now invested in a very cheap but superb solution to stay dry, in the form of some camouflaged tarpaulin - a real winner! A few further visits have been and gone, some in very different conditions, which I was hoping would offer some variation in the images I was collating. One such visit was a very cold day with thick cloud and, at times, mist. The latter turned out not to be an issue given the proximity of the rails though the cloud cover acted more like a blocker than a diffuser of light. Pretty dank and it meant getting a sufficient shutter speed would be a struggle without whacking up the ISO or increasing the aperture. Upon arrival there were two birds foraging in the open and I managed to get a lot closer than normal without really trying.

This didn’t stop once I was set-up. In fact, it was a tough session because the birds spent more time within the minimum focussing distance than out of it! My dad had joined me to observe from a distance and he was startled at just how close they were coming with one no more than two feet from my lens. I was even able to raise my head and watch without spooking the bird. Wow! It felt awesome to be so close. It did make me wonder if they’re getting used to my presence as I was repeatedly unable to shoot due to the proximity. Whilst this was great in terms of excitement, it made photography a real challenge. It prompted me to remove my 1.7x converter so I was shooting with 300mm on a full frame camera for the first time during this project. This was something I had considered previously and decided that I had nothing to lose given the conditions and it did work well. Saying that; low light plus high ISO plus large aperture plus VERY close subject equals hardly any depth of field. This did make for something slightly different but how I wished for just a little more light. There always something that could be better! The main drawback was the low shutter speed but I got a few keepers.

The last few visits dedicated to this project saw a reduction in the regularity of the birds appearing. This may simply have been down to bad luck / timing as there was still activity both in terms of sightings and regular calls. That said, as a result of a calmer spell of weather featuring a welcome dry period, the water levels receded sufficiently to allow some images with the birds on dry land at last giving yet more variation to the images I’d collated to date.

Water RailWater Rail

So that’s how the project has gone to date. All in all, a thoroughly satisfying project, which will be hard to ever really leave alone. Some pleasing shots and exceptional up-close and personal views of a normally shy bird have made me a very happy chap. I don’t plan on leaving it there though and have a few tweaks in mind in terms of my set-up for future projects of this type, which I’m hoping will give me some even better results. Some of these tweaks include a dedicated ground pod for additional stability whilst hopefully allowing more fluid panning of the camera. It's been a fantastic project from a learning perspective, not just from a photographic perspective but also in terms of gaining a greater understanding of the behaviour of a charismatic if secretive little bird. A bird which has become one of my favourites.

Water RailWater Rail

 

 
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(Dave Collins Photography) Cotswold Water Park Nikon D800 Photography Project Water Rail https://www.davecollinsphotography.co.uk/blog/2015/2/project-water-rail Mon, 16 Feb 2015 20:49:00 GMT