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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Keywords: Bird Photography, Birding, Birds, Blog, Butterfly, Daneway Banks, Gloucestershire, Macro, Nature, Photography, Review of 2015, Strawberry Banks, Wildlife, Wildlife photography
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