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Sunday 27 December 2015

A New Camera - on 23rd December, 2015

My wonderful wife, Lindsay, bought me a new camera as a present - not for Christmas (she gave me a couple of great books on dragonflies for Christmas), but as an early (six months early!) 70th birthday present. Her logic was a confidence-inspiring - "well you might as well have it now whilst you are still able to get full use out of it"!

The camera she bought me was a Nikon D7200. I'd been waiting for years for a 'pro' replacement for the Nikon D300s, of which I own two. However, it became apparent that Nikon had no intentions of bringing out a replacement anytime soon. My main reason for wanting an upgrade was that the 12.3 Megapixels and high ISO performance of the D300s is now greatly outstripped by more modern cameras. The D7200 offers 24.2 Megapixels and a significantly superior high ISO performance.

My D7200 arrived from Dale Photographic on Wednesday 9th December. By the time I'd got a battery charged and skipped through the relevant parts of the manual it was Wednesday evening. My usual Sigma 50-500 lens was stuck on the front - and the Optical Stabilisation didn't function! Most of that evening and the following evening (I was out all day on the Thursday) was spent trying to get to the root of the problem. The image stabilisation didn't work properly on any of my lenses with the D7200, but they did work on pal John's D810 which has the same processor at its core. 

The suppliers were perplexed by the issue, but offered to to sort it out for me if I got the lens and camera to them.  Nikon were less than helpful, registering my query as a problem with a Nikon lens (that I'd not used for around four years). Sigma were extremely helpful, and suggested that there was the possibility that the problem could be fixed with a firmware upgrade to the lens - I'd never considered that the lens would have a processor which used updateable firmware!

It was Monday 14th before I had the confidence that my best option was to take up Sigma's offer of a free upgrade to the firmware in the lens. The lens was posted via Royal Mail's Special Delivery, insured and guaranteed delivery by 13h00 the following day. By 14h00 the following day it had become apparent that Royal Mail had lost my lens. It took a further hour or so to find someone at Royal Mail who would take ownership of my problem - and they managed to find my lens (still at my local Sorting Office, apparently) and get it on its way. 

Sigma were marvellous! They received my lens at around mid-day on the Wednesday and it was on its way back to me mid-morning the next day, arriving before mid-day on the Friday (18th Dec.). The OS on the lens was checked on the D7200, and all seemed OK.  Now I needed to see what the new camera was capable of!

Pre-Christmas commitments and evil weather meant that opportunities were severely limited. What little photography I did indulge in was in extremely poor light conditions, but did serve to prove that the camera had capabilities way-beyond that of the D300s. However, nothing resulted that I would care to reproduce here.

It was Wednesday 23rd before we had a day of sunny weather and I had a free day. I started with a walk on my local patch, but only found an owl at my Site No.02. It was high up on the chimney stack, with strong sun on one side. At this distance and in these light conditions, my old camera would have given me somewhat less detail and probably bad 'flare' on the paler parts in the sun. This heavy crop is only about 17% of the original frame.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.02
This next shot, at my LO Site No.51, was taken under even more difficult circumstances.  The wind was blowing me about, and I was at just over 50 metres distance. With the bird mostly in deep shade, but with dappled light coming through in places, I probably would have totally failed with the D300s. This is a crop to only 9% of the original image!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.51
I didn't manage to find any more Little Owls, which was not surprising as it was so windy, so I decided to set off back towards home and visit my Short-eared Owl site. It's all very well taking shots of static birds, but one of the reasons for wanting the new camera was the ability to wind the ISO up so that I could attain faster shutter speeds for flight shots.

I arrived to find that the owl was already out. It stayed around for about forty minutes, and kept its distance for most of the time. It did come closer on a few occasions, but never really close. However, I did manage to get some shots that gave me the confidence that this new camera was going to be a real treat! I found that, even when it clouded over, I was able to carry on shooting. I got the impression that the camera had greater difficulty finding initial focus (that could easily be my inexperience with the camera), but that, having found focus, it held it more accurately on a moving subject (particularly when obstructions got in the way). I also found that the effects of changing background light were less drastic than I was used to.

Here's a few from that session, including the header image whilst this post is current.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
Although these might not be perfect results, I'm more than satisfied with them for a first attempt with the new camera. I can't wait for summer when, hopefully, I'll get the opportunity to try it in macro mode. Thank you, Lindsay, for a wonderful present. You're an absolute star, and the light of my life!

I'm not sure about the next post, but I really should take a break from showing Shorties. Perhaps the next one will convince you that I've become a bit of a bug-er?

Thank you for dropping by. I hope you had a great Christmas, and I wish you a happy and healthy wildlife-filled 2016.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Seasons Greetings! - 2015

I take this opportunity to wish my friends and followers peace and happiness at this very special time of year.

Thank you for your supportive comments throughout the year. They have been very much appreciated, and have inspired me in my attempt to improve my wildlife and photographic skills, and to broaden my horizons. 

May 2016 be a year that fulfils your dreams.


Tuesday 8 December 2015

A Short Post - on 6th December, 2015

After my last post, in which I commented on the photographic limitations of the tall pole that the Short-eared Owl that I'd been watching was using, owlmeister Paul Riddle suggested that I set up a shorter pole for it to sit on (thank you, Paul). All my owl photography, up until now, has been opportunistic. Yes, very occasionally I set up my hide and sit there patiently for some time, but I've never tried placing props for an owl to use - although I've thought about it on many an occasion!

I decided to give it a go, so on Tuesday 1st December I cut down a stout length of wood from our Sambucus in the garden (a bit that was due to be pruned out anyway) and attached it with screws to a length of substantial aluminium extrusion (after painting the aluminium black).

On Wednesday morning I set off to my shortie site, carefully selected a position close to its favoured pole, bashed the aluminium into the ground with a lump hammer, and then re-attached the new pole. - - then the evil weather set in!! We had extended periods of extremely high winds (local damage) and spells of torrential rain over the next few days.

When the winds dropped a bit, I made a couple of visits and didn't see an owl, but wasn't surprised by this as it was still very windy.

Then on Sunday we had a period of relatively calm weather, so I set off with a little more hope. The owl showed just as a lady arrived with three dogs, and we stopped to have a chat. Sadly, the owl didn't stay long and never went near either of the poles, although I did manage a few images and, as I left, I spotted the owl on another pole in a different plantation. I'll not bother with any of those images here.

Yesterday (Monday 7th) the weather became calm with sunny periods so I went back again with the intention of setting up my hide near to the two poles. As I arrived I saw the owl over the other side of the hedge having an altercation with a Crow. As I pulled into my usual parking space the owl was sitting on a short post only about 30 metres in front of me.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
As I moved forward to clear the road, the owl was off - and flew straight to my short pole! I was excited to think that the pole was attractive to the owl, but was somewhat frustrated that I'd not been able to set my hide up before it went there, nor would I be able to now that the owl was out. The pole was about 120 metres from my position but, by walking down the road with the hedge between me and the owl I could get to within about 80 metres. These two were taken from the roadside. I think that perch might work quite well!

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
Sadly, the sun departed shortly after this. The owl stayed, however. The owl usually flies very low when hunting in this young plantation. On the plus side, I believe that it makes for more interesting photos. On the minus side, it makes tracking the owl with the camera a little more difficult. The image, below, shows the situation relatively clearly.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
Here's a few more from yesterday.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
I was back there again today. When I set off, the wind was relatively OK, and it was sunny. I settled into my hide near the poles at 14h00. It soon got very windy, then the rain came, then the clouds came (yes, it was windy enough that the rain reached me some time before the clouds did!). Fortunately the rain stopped after about quarter of an hour and the winds lightened a bit. The owl eventually showed at 15h26, but didn't settle on a pole. It had a dog-fight with a Crow and landed on a fence post at the edge of the plantation about 75 metres away, where I could just about see it in the gloom by getting a crick in my neck looking out of a rear side window in my hide. I was getting cold now as I'd been sitting there for two and a half hours, the temperature had dropped from 13°C to 8°C, and I was getting cold! I daren't move from the hide whilst the owl was sitting there as it would blow my cover and potentially alert the owl to danger if it saw the hide again. It sat there, slowly disappearing into the gloom of nightfall, for a full forty minutes! Eventually, at 16h18 it departed over the hedge and I ran for it! The only photo in the can from today was one of a rainbow!

I shall be back again - maybe to bore you with more photos of a Short-eared Owl! Me? - I just can't get enough of them!

Thank you for dropping by.

Friday 27 November 2015

Asio Flammeus in Pole Position!

No, not an unknown driver excelling in qualifying for a race!

Following my finding of a Short-eared Owl site on Saturday, the photos from which featured in my previous post, I'd had a couple more visits to the site.  Neither of these visits resulted in any photos which improved on those taken on that first day. I did notice, however, that each time I visited, the owl spent some time on a particular tall pole. No matter which angle I looked from, it was never going to be possible to take a photo of the owl on the post with anything but a plain sky background. If I was going to make anything of this situation, I had to be closer.

The owl had appeared at 15h19 on that first day, but closer to 15h45 on the next two visits. Yesterday (Wednesday) I set up my hide and tripod at around 20 metres distance from the pole well before I expected the owl to emerge and went back to my car to wait in comfort, with the intention of getting into my hide at 15h00 to await the owl.

The owl showed at 14h52 !! It took a quick turn around the pole and my hide, and then went further away. Had it been spooked by my hide, I wondered? Fortunately it then flew over a high hedge and into the next field where it was out of sight. I ran to my hide and spent a few minutes settling myself in, attaching the cable release to the camera, and adjusting the camera on the tripod. 

About ten minutes later it came into my line of vision in the field that I was in, made a couple of attempts at catching prey and then flew up onto the top of the pole.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
I'd not had time to adjust my camera settings after taking the above images, before the owl left the pole and flew to the ground approximately 10 metres in front of me. I was sitting quite low, and the grass was very long so, unfortunately, I couldn't see the owl. By the time it popped up onto the pole again, I'd tweaked my settings - and it came back with prey! The following images are a few of the many that I took before it swallowed its prey whole. The last one in the sequence was of the 'glug' expression on its face as it went down!

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
There are only so many images that one can take of the same owl on the same pole, without things getting repetitive. I was ready to leave, but the owl thought otherwise. It seemed totally oblivious to my presence, in spite of my rather noisy camera shutter, and so I sat it out. Here's a few taken in the ever decreasing light conditions whilst I waited for the owl to go. I'm particularly fond of the third image which, possibly, should be entitled 'shall we dance'.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
Half an hour or so after first landing on the post, the owl flew off the post and departed over the hedge into the next field. I quickly packed up and hurried back to my car.

I could tell that the owl was relaxed in the presence of me in my hide as not once did it raise its 'ear tufts', it preened, and it barely ever looked in my direction. I shall, therefore, aim to have one more session here, with my hide at approximately 10 metres distance, in the hope of getting some images with more detail of that fabulous face!

Thank you for dropping by.

It's been a long while, but I'm linking this to Stewart Monkton's 'Wild Bird Wednesday', where he's got an excellent post on Red-tailed Tropicbird.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Short Interludes - on 20th & 21st November, 2013

On Friday morning I had a call from the owlmeister, Paul Riddle, wanting to meet up so that he could hand over one of his superb owl calendars that I'd ordered in support of his excellent work. It was agreed that we'd meet in the layby beside Cossington Meadows that afternoon. After the handover, Paul couldn't hang around for long as he was rather busy with work, so I set off on my own to see if I could find the Short-eared Owls that had been reported from this site.

I soon found that I was far from the only person to have this thought and by the time the owls (there were two of them) appeared at 15h08 there must have been over a dozen of us in attendance. Sadly the clouds had rolled in by then and it was quite breezy, and the owls didn't come very close, so I only got record shots. However they do, at least, portray something of the nature of these wonderful birds.

The first image shows the first bird when it first appeared.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - Cossington Meadows
The light was gone, it was threatening rain, and I was inadequately dressed for the cold, so I departed at just after 4 p.m.

Inspired by the sight of these birds, yesterday (Saturday 21st) I decided to check out a location much nearer to home which I'd recently passed and which, at first glance, seemed to have fair potential for wintering Short-eared Owl. I didn't have any great expectations, so you can probably imagine my surprise when, within a couple of minutes from getting out of my car, a Short-eared Owl appeared. For some very good reasons, I am not able to divulge the location of this site, but I'm unaware of any previous sightings here.

Fortunately the light, although not good, was a bit better than it had been the previous day at Cossington Meadows, so I did a bit better with the photography.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
I can see from the metadata that this session only lasted less than 15 minutes - a short Short interlude! During this time, the light had been diminishing rapidly, and the owl had now moved further away, and so I decided to head for home. If it's not raining later today, I shall be back there again! Watch this space!

Thank you for dropping by.