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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

A Dilemma Resolved - on 27th August, 2017

I'd had a hankering to have another session with the new macro lens, and try it on a few dragons and damselflies. The local weather forecast for the Sunday didn't look too bad and as it was probably the last open Sunday at Alvecote Wood at which I'd have a chance at these creatures (the open days are on the last Sunday of each month until December) I'd made up my mind to go there for the day, taking sandwiches with me. My main interest was to photograph some Emerald Damselflies as I'd not photographed many so far this year.

For some reason, that morning, I checked Birdguides for the latest news on sightings. I confess that this is something I probably only do once every week or two on average at this time of year. I was, therefore, highly disturbed to see that a Hoopoe had been being reported since the Friday only about 11 miles (18km) from my home. I've only ever seen one in UK once before, and then only got very distant views. 

Do I carry on with my plans to go to Alvecote, or do I head for Loughborough? Could I fit in both? If I fit in both, where do I go first? Ah, but I need the macro for Alvecote and the 50-500 for Loughborough - do I really want to be changing lenses in the field?

You'll probably have guessed wrong! What I decided to do was to go to Alvecote first, taking both lenses with me then, at around mid-day, look to see if the Hoopoe had been reported that morning and, if it had, scoot over to Loughborough.

I arrived at Alvecote Wood to be told that Sarah, the co-owner, was down by the ponds looking for dragons and damsels already, so without more ado, I set off for the ponds. 

At the ponds, I saw Sarah in the distance, but immediately saw some Emerald Damselflies. I soon found a limitation with the 150 macro. A mating pair were in front of me, but too far away to make anything of with the 150 - I'd have just about managed it with the 50-500.

Sarah told me that she'd seen plenty of Emerald Damselflies and a few Migrant Hawker dragonflies. However the latter hadn't been settling, and kept flying up into the trees.

I set about practising with the new macro lens, with the Emeralds as my prime target as they can be quite photogenic. I'm quite pleased with the results although, as always, there's room for improvement.

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - Alvecote Wood
If you only ever saw bronzed specimens as shown in those last four images, you could be forgiven for wondering where the 'emerald' epithet came from. I do love those blue eyes!

There were a few Ruddy Darter around, but I didn't spend much time on these.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Alvecote Wood
The Common Darters were being a little more obliging than their ruddy counterparts.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Alvecote Wood
That last set of images really convinced me that I'd bought the right lens! 

At one point I was watching a Migrant Hawker, and it settled on the far side of the pond that I was standing beside. I took a safety shot from a distance and I'm surprised that the shot (quite heavily cropped in the image below) turned out so well.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Alvecote Wood
To my delight, it soon flew and settled a bit closer to me - then, almost immediately, it did so again!

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Alvecote Wood
I just couldn't believe my luck when it again rose from its perch and came even closer still. I am pleasantly surprised by the depth of field achieved, and these are almost certainly my best images of A. mixta yet!

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Alvecote Wood
I learnt something that day which I wish I'd been aware of for the past few years, and that is that if I am using my camera in autofocus mode (which I always do), I can override any mis-focus by turning the manual focus ring. I have subsequently found that this works on the Sigma 50-500 also! Another thing that I soon found with the new macro lens is that the minimum focal distance is not as good as that on the 50-500!!

It was approaching lunchtime, and time for a decision. Fortunately, I was able to get an internet connection and check on the state of play in Loughborough - the Hoopoe had shown only a few minutes previously. I returned to my car, gobbled my sandwich, switched lenses so that the Sigma 50-500 was now on my camera, and set off for Loughborough which was only half an hour away.

I arrived to be told that the Hoopoe had shown for a while, but had then disappeared into the distance, looking as if it might not return. There were around half a dozen people standing at the roadside waiting for the bird. Whilst there, pal Col Green showed up and we had a chat just down the road from the main group who seemed to be talking far too loudly for our liking - we didn't think there was much chance of the bird returning under those circumstances. After around an hour it was starting to look as if we would be unlucky - and then we found ourselves being beckoned round the corner into Cherry Close, where an extremely kind lady invited us all into her house so we could stand in her lounge and dining room to watch, through the windows, the bird that was in her back garden. 

The bird was directly in front of me at one point, but it stayed virtually motionless and almost head-on for a while. Suddenly it became animated and moved off to the right. I still had great views, but the photos of it then deteriorated somewhat as I was shooting at an angle though double glazing. It was, nevertheless, a totally magical experience. I can see from the camera data that I was only there for 5 minutes, before deciding that it was time to let someone else have a chance, and so departed, leaving a donation with the wonderful lady who had let us all into her home without even asking us to take our boots off! I'm allowing myself to be totally self-indulgent with the images below as I just know I'll never get another opportunity like this with this species!

Hoopoe (Upupa epops) - Loughborough
It seems that some people stayed considerably longer than I did that afternoon, and some were lucky enough to get some excellent images of it with its crest up. I'm more than happy to get what I did, however! The next day the bird had gone.

I take this opportunity to thank, again, the wonderful lady in Cherry Close. You're an absolute star!

 Thank you for dropping by. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

A Return to Ticknall Limeyards - on 25th August, 2017

It seems that I need to clear up a couple of matters before I embark on the main topic of this post!

Some people had noticed that a blog post about Chalkhill Blues briefly appeared on my blog, and then disappeared again within a few minutes. However, if they saw a link to my blog (for example, if their own blog had a link to my blog) it still showed the Chalkhill Blues post as being there. 

What had happened was that I'd published a post on Heather Lake on 8th September, and then immediately started work on my next post on Chalkhill Blues. Unfortunately, whilst writing this new post, I accidentally hit the 'publish' button. It took a few minutes to realise what I'd done, and a little longer to retrieve this post and reinstate the Heather post. Sadly, links to Blogger, didn't recognise this state of affairs and so any links to the Heather post totally disappeared for ever after only a few minutes.

If you missed the Heather Post, it can be found here

If you missed the Chalkhill Blue post, it can be found here

Oh! I forgot to mention the second item which was that Lindsay and I have been away for a few days. Whilst we had internet connection where we were staying I was, unfortunately, unable to log into Blogger. This means that I was rather tardy in publishing comments and replying to them. Sorry!!

I'd had my new macro lens for a week and had not yet had a really good session out in the field to practise use of it. With a mixed weather forecast and little time on my hands, I did not want to venture too far so, after lunch, I set off for Ticknall Limeyards. This time I parked in a different location, and found that the alternative access route halved the distance to reach the ponds in the limeyards.

At first it didn't look too promising, with just a few Common Darters around. Even these were playing hard to get!

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Ticknall Limeyards
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Ticknall Limeyards
Soon a Brown Hawker arrived and started ovipositing in one of the smaller ponds. Sadly, without waders, it was impossible to get shots with the light in a favourable direction. This was one situation where I'd probably have done better using the 50-500 rather than the 150 macro. Soon a second female appeared and the two started competing for suitable places to oviposit. The photographic results are far from satisfactory but the best I could manage, with glare being a significant problem.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (female ovipositing) - Ticknall Limeyards
I'd spent quite a lot of time checking out side paths on my way to the ponds, with some interesting findings  - although nothing was photographed. However, this meant that the rest of my time was a little limited as I'd promised Lindsay that I'd cook tea that night for when she returned. I decided to quickly check the old lime kiln area as this is where I'd found White-letter Hairstreak butterfly on a previous visit. I was disappointed to see that the tall vegetation where the hairstreak had been feeding had been strimmed to within an inch of its life!

Nevertheless, I had a look round and noticed a Migrant Hawker dragonfly, then a second. After a while, one of these settled in some  bushes and brambles. It was a little deep in and my early attempts to photograph it were not good. However, It stayed put whilst I battled my way through the undergrowth, and I managed some better shots. In the first image, below, I had to lift the detail in the shadows by applying a shadow protection factor of 32 in post-processing. The second image had a shadow protection factor of 27 applied - I'm still amazed by the result with this image! For the last two images, shadow protection was not required as I had used the on-camera flash.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (immature male) - Ticknall Limeyards.
By the time I left, there were five Migrant Hawkers in the air in a very small area, and the subject of my photography was still in the bushes.

It had been an interesting session and the results, whilst relatively pleasing, left me in no doubt that I still have a lot to learn about the use of this lens.

Thank you for dropping by. If all goes according to plan, my next post will be a little different -  at least for the second half!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

In Search of Chalkhill Blues - on 10th august, 2017

This is another post with me in catch-up mode. It features a visit to a favourite location in early August. At that time I was still only using the Sigma 50-500mm lens.

My destination was Hills and Holes by Barnack in Cambridgeshire, and I set off late morning when it seemed that the weather had a chance of working in my favour.

Things started to look promising when I spotted a pair of Wheatear close to my Little Owl Site No.41 - although no owl has been seen here for many weeks. Here is one of the pair.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) - near my LO Site No.41
Further on a Kestrel momentarily remained on a post while I wound down my window and poked the camera at it.

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (male)
I stopped to have a picnic lunch by my Little Owl Site No.34 in the hope of seeing an owl. I haven't seen one here for a while. They seem to have left the area and have possibly fallen victim to a Buzzard that was hanging around at the time of their disappearance.

I arrived at Hills and Holes at around 13h00, and set off in search of may target butterfly species - the Chalkhill Blue. I'd been twice before to look for this species - once in 2016 when John and I had visited rather late in the season when all the specimens seen were rather worn and tatty, and then again earlier in the season (probably a bit too early) this year when only males of the species were seen. John would have been with me again on this latest visit if he'd not been ill. 

I soon saw a male Chalkhill Blue which had settled on the path ahead of me. Then a little later another one, then a pair of males interacting but all were settling on the path which was not the best of situations. My real target was females of the species and, as usual , these were somewhat more elusive, although I did, eventually, manage to find some.

There were other butterflies too, the most interesting to me being the Brown Argus. This species can, at a glance, be difficult to tell from the female Chalkhill Blue when in flight because their size isn't immediately apparent - the Brown Argus is somewhat smaller.

On the odonata front, I didn't bother with the Common Blue Damselflies, several Brown Hawkers were seen but didn't oblige for a photo, and plenty of Common Darters were seen and a couple were photographed.

Here are some of my shots from the session.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Barnack Hills and Holes
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - Barnack Hills and Holes

Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) - Barnack Hills and Holes
Note that the dark spots on the forewings of the Brown Argus are somewhat variable in these parts. The norm elsewhere, I believe, is for the spots to be plain black. Hereabouts they tend to have white either side of the black, sometimes almost obscuring the black - tending to make them look somewhat like the Northern Brown Argus.

As previously mentioned, my real target was the female Chalkhill Blue. Here are some images of some that I found that day.

Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon) (female) - Barnack Hills and Holes
There's no getting away from it, however - the male of the species is remarkably handsome!

Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon) (male) - Barnack Hills and Holes
 It had been quite a rewarding day, from my point of view, and I went home a happy man!

Thank you for dropping by. I'm undecided, at this point in time as to what my next post will feature.