A Nice Day in the Garden

In life you meet some people you just get on with without any effort.

Five months ago after posting images of birds on social media and offering my knowledge to anyone who wanted help with their photography, a nice guy called Tom got in touch with me asking for for a chat about camera settings.

We met later in the month and spent some time in Stanley Park near Blackpool, taking some images of Swans and Parakeets. We got on really well and I invited him up to our static van to see the bird life we get.

He came today for the morning. We had some lunch and sat taking images of Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Redpoll, Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Blackbird and Collard Dove.

Tom loved it as the birds came into feed all the time, giving him a chance to test his Nikon D7200 out on different settings.

Sometimes in photography you’re getting great images, then for some reason you decide to try something else. That is what happened to me today – I changed my focus setting area.

I think, with the light being great, the settings were not to my liking, so I am going back to old settings. But it is good to try out new things just to make sure!

My Granddad, Me and my Camera

I can still remember my Grandad 50 years ago with his camera, getting us to pose for a family photo.

He loved photography, and said it made time stand still.

Unfortunately I don’t have many of the 2×2 black and white images that he took.

Sadly when he passed, I was in India with the Army and couldn’t get back for his funeral.

My last memory of him with his camera was when he was in hospital. Lying in bed in bad health, he reached down and pulled out his little 35mm camera. “Gather round the end of the bed for a photo” he said.

He is always with me when I am out with my camera.

I carry a very old tripod he used for his photography work, and I use it for my compact camera, and for mounting my wildlife Trail Cam on.

I find it amazing that back in 1972 when I picked up my first camera I could only afford a roll of film with 12 exposures.

We talk today about ISO all the time – it is in every forum you look at about photography. Those were the days when I could only get ISO 100 or 200.

You had to work with what you had, and if you got it wrong that was that. Buy another film, plus development of the negatives.

The firm ‘Bonus Print’ developed my film, and back then they would develop out of focus negatives and still charge you.

My first camera – a Kodak Tele Instamatic

I traveled to Belize in 1979, spending 6 months 10 miles from Belize city.

On my weekends off I used to travel to small island and spend time chilling.

Arriving in Belize city, I would get a boat to the island.

On one particular boat journey I had my camera at hand.

Out of the sea a Dolphin leapt from the water.

You couldn’t check if it was in focus, but months later I got the film developed and it was a great shot as it was horizontal to the horizon. I have the picture somewhere and will post on here at a later date.

I got my second camera whilst I was in the Falklands.

My second camera in 1982 – a Praktica 35mm Ziess Lens

This is an image I got from the internet, and the one I owned had a Ziess Lens.

The camera was so sharp. I can’t remember what mode I used back then, all I know is the images this camera produced were excellent.

On my weekends off I walked for miles in uniform; just me and my camera, venturing to remote places that no one else had tread.

One afternoon as I rested below a small rock face, I looked up and halfway up was a Red Backed Hawk only 10 feet away from me.

It was looking straight at me, with a very disturbing posture.

It was only when I spoke to a local Falklander that they informed me the Hawk I encountered had a reputation for attacking people.

Another afternoon whilst walking I came to a place called Fox Bay. On a hillside, miles from anywhere, was a Wooden Cross with the name inscription Capt John Hamleton.

Please read this memorial to John.

Capt Gavin John Hamilton MC

The Memorial I came across stands on a exposed hill in Port Howard.

A Heroes Cross

Please read the article of this hero – he gave his life for his comrades and was awarded the Military Cross.

Sadly the word hero is taken lightly these days, but in my mind John was a true hero.

I am so glad I followed in my Granddad’s footsteps with my camera in hand – something incredibly valuable to pass on to my children and grandchildren.

The Swan

The first time I witnessed this was as a boy, but I never thought it looked beautiful until I was older and appreciated how majestic the Swan is; clumsy on land yet moving with grace on the water.

The Swan mate for life, and the courtship involves mutual bill dipping and head posturing.

They are sociable except in breeding season, and can be very aggressive if you approach with a dog. My old Labrador, Monty, found that out when he was a pup and ventured too close.

Observing them this year was very interesting.

They pick on certain birds that are on the lake.

There are different species all swimming around them, but as soon as a Canada goose comes into the area, the Swan lowers itself into the water and pushes using it’s big feet to get up speed, quickly getting within range to attack.

This is great for me because you get some great action shots.

The male Swan is called a cob, and the female a pen.

They feed by dabbling, not diving, in the shallows for aquatic plants.

Over time I have learnt to know when the action will start, so I am always ready with the big zoom pulled back – if not the Swan fills the frame (and more). Many images captured only half the swan.

The action can be anything from taking flight to landing, and after they preen themselves they always rise up out of the water for a fantastic display of power.

An amazing bird that I was always told belong to the Her Majesty The Queen of England.

The White Angel

Fly my friend, away into the dark; moving silently, looking for a meal for your young owlets.

The rain has stopped and there is no wind, making the hunt ideal.

The long grass motionless except for Mr Vole getting ready for his 🌙 nighttime adventures.

Barn Owl Sony A7r4 200-600

The bad weather has made you hunt in the daylight – you make that sacrifice to raise your family.

The seagulls give chase, making your life even harder than it is already.

Rest now on the fence post; energy is critical so sit and wait for an easy meal.

Barn Owl resting Sony A7r4 200-600

The grass moves.

There is a sound from below.

You strike with precision and accuracy, talons pushed forward with eyes closed for a split second before the kill.

Before the kill

Hold it with your feet. Take to the air with your prize – one of 5000 that you need to raise your family.

Be quick – the sky is turning grey and the rain will be here soon. There is time for one more hunt.

Barn Owl Hunting

No time to waste.

You exit the barn and quarter the field back and forth, then hover with such grace using your heart shape disc to collect information, telling you where to strike.

Barn Owl hears a sound below

Like a dart, you tuck your soft feathered wings back and dive at speed; another meal for your family.

Up into flight, you return to the nest as the rain comes.

Let’s Have a Go!

Over winter I had no wildlife to film.

Having a high resolution camera and a Macro lens, I came up with a few ideas and tried using the kitchen as my studio.

The mixer tap came in handy with just a few height issues, so with a Godex Flash Trigger and Flash I set up for my first attempt.

What a fantastic effect the water had just pouring over the glass.

I used the Sony 90mm 2.8 Macro lens to get the images above. The flash was essential for the images to be right.

With the results being so good for my first attempt, I went a stage further and just used the mixer tap . I turned the tap on ever so slow, so that a small drip was dropping.

I placed backdrop at the back of the sink on a chopping board to give it a nice effect. It must have taken 100 images to get one just right.

I was so happy with the results and my imagination ran a bit wild, so more backdrops, and more images that I really like.

Having my African Grey Parrot Bella gave me more ideas.

Using her feathers, I purchased a small small eye droplet holder.

Placing the feather on a flat surface, then water and using a Mini Manfrotto Tripod, I setup the camera using Manual Mode and using the Sony Focus magnifier to get it all in focus.

I had to use f11 to get the depth of field and all the feather and droplets in focus. It took lots of attempts.

Using Bella’s feathers, I tried a few more images with a mirror and some water droplets.

Having tried many creative images, the one I wanted was the dandelion clock with a tiny water droplet sitting on top.

The equipment consisted of small table and a plastic tray half filled with water and a small piece of BluTac.

With some tweezers, I carefully picked out a clock and put it on the BluTac, and placed it in the water so it was submerged just up to the base of the stem.

The background was very important, so I printed some images off the internet and placed them at the back of the tray.

I think the results speak for themselves – and this was my first time trying this.

Moving onto the next challenge – the water droplet hitting the water.

For this I had to set up a tripod and make a hanger I could attach a sandwich bag with water in.

I then used a plate with water in and added food colouring for effect.

Setting the camera up close to the plate, I used a thermometer in the water with one hand and focused the camera with the other.

Using a knife, I pricked a hole in the bag, watched where the droplet landed and focused on it.

Watching the droplet come down, I anticipated when it would hit the surface of the water.

Finally I got very creative and tried lots of different things – below are some of my most imaginative ideas.

The Gift from Who?

Picking up my knife five years ago, I never imagined I would be selling my wood Carvings to very happy customers.

What and where did this creative skill come from, or is it in us all to make something from nothing?

I look back at my military career and my time as a confectioner, and wonder what if the path of my life had been different. But then I would not have the things in life I have now.

Anyway, with my love for bird and animal photography, I wanted to copy an owl onto wood, and that is how it all started.

MDF and some cheap wood chisels.

I soon learned about dust spoor that gets on your lungs, and looked for a better material. I cut up old tables and anything else that would be good for relief carving.

Then we moved to a Caravan in the country, and I soon found some nice wood – green wood that was easy to work with.

I had to learn about the different species of tree, what carved well, density of wood, splitting and the grain. All very interesting, but ultimately it was getting your hands on the right tree, and the right size of tree.

Getting to know a man called Colin who worked on the site gave me a new opportunity to get my hands on some wood. Colin, who works as maintenance, would inform me when he was cutting a tree down or when a tree had come down in the woods. With this source I would have the materials to start working with.

I needed good ,sharp tools that would make carving easier. Researching all aspects of wood carving put me in good stead, and it began from there.

Early Carvings

Tha chisels were the most important tool in my box. Pfiel are a Swiss made chisel that cost the earth, but I still use them now as the steel is premium and always stays super sharp.

With me photographing birds led me to trying to make a 3D bird. YouTube videos and books gave me vital information, but it was down to me, my skills and patience.

The Wren, Kingfisher and Woodpecker were the first I did with good results, but it was the Owl I wanted to make. I concentrated on the Barn Owl because the face is so recognized by people.

First attempts were nice but the face wasn’t right, so I printed off images of the Barn Owl I had filmed and examined the face and eyes.

With having a source of wood to pick from I quickly learned that Silver Birch and Mountain Ash were the best to work with. Green is a term when you work with non seasoned wood, soft and full of moisture but very easy to carve.

More Carvings

The winter of 2018, I got my hands on a big chunk of Mountain Ash.

How I wanted to try a big owl carving.

I do work with a four inch Bosch grinder with a special disc made by Arbortech; without this I would not be able to get the shape I want.

I also invested in a Stihl 180 chainsaw with a Carving Blade fitted. 

Having the shape of the owl in my head, I made a start with the chainsaw, getting a rough shape I was happy with.

Once I was happy with the shape, I tackled the hardest part of the carving – getting the feet right. I took my time and soon had a shape I could work with.

It was time for the chisels to come out to start work on the detail work.

Slowly I worked on the feet – like the eye, it has to resemble the real thing. Easy saying that.

Working for an hour a night, I was very happy with the feet and talons. Then the work started on the body and feather detail.

Overall, I was over the moon with my first big wood carving. The problem in the UK is what to treat it with after.

I hate putting varnish on my wood, but this was to take pride and place in our garden.

I found a suitable place on top of a large piece of Oak. It looked fantastic but I forgot to check it weekly for any signs of cracking or weather damage.

The rain had got into parts of the wood and we had the hottest summer in the UK for ages.

It split badly, so I decided to take it in for the winter. I worked on it by removing all the detail and started again. I even re-carved the face again.

It will take pride and place again in the garden but this time with varnish on.

Where did this gift come from? To take wood from the forest and have the skill to make it into an owl?

Grey Heron Gallery

Action on the Water

A bird flying low across the water at speed is a photographer’s dream – if you’re in the right place at the right time.

I found the Great Crested Greebe back in 2012 at a park nearby, and it was the first bird on the water I researched and spent hours observing.

From fishing, to mating, to aggressive behaviour – it was so interesting.

My first real challenge was to capture the Greebe with a fish.

I watched it dive for a fish and timed it from when it submerged down below to swimming back up to the surface. I worked out it stayed under the water for 12 to 14 seconds. Also, it left an air bubble trail on the surface.

I also quickly found that if the Greebe spotted you, it would swim away into the middle of the lake.

I began to observe it from a distance, and by doing that I could monitor it as it came close to the bank of the lake.

They seemed to prefer the overhanging trees where the fish take shelter.

A few areas became a favourite place for the Greebe to fish, so I made sure to get into position shortly before they got there.

Greebe with fish

As I followed the Greebe ,I found a method of getting into the right position.

With the park having many trees close to the bank, that gave me cover to move when the Greebe went down to fish.

I quickly ran between the trees, hoping it would come up with a fish.

Greebe with a huge fish
Greebe turning the fish to swallow

The other Greebe image I wanted to capture was the famous Mating dance.

They meet in the lake, then turn and swim away for about 20 feet, then dive. They come up with dead leaves in their beaks and swim toward each other, then hit each other as they rise out of the water and dance, mimicking each other.

It was always going to be a case of right time, right place.

After watching them for three years, it happened.

Greebe Mating Dance

These latest images were in March 2020 when a Coot was getting close to the Greebe nest area.

I just knew the Greebe would come out low, but I didn’t know it would fly across the water. Amazing.

The Boss in the Attic

Moving up the ladder and peering into the darkness, I could see the chair was covered in dust.

Blowing the dust off into the attic air, it settled quickly.

Light punched it’s way through the cracks in the roof.

Straw and grass hung down from the old wooden beam, the Sparrow nest from the year before.

It was cold from the winter chill coming through the crack in the wall.

Finding the old light that was still attached to the home made stand and swivel head, I switched it on.

Boxes strewn around the floor with names on them. Christmas decorations, children’s books, bits and bobs.

The old rocking chair still moved freely, the wooden arms smooth from the hands that had held them and gripped onto them when frightened.

Crash.

The loft door closed behind me and made me jump.

I turned back to see the chair was in darkness except for a glimmer of light.

As I looked closely, I could just make out the shadow of a man sitting, looking down.

It was the Boss, but as I blinked he seemed to change in appearance.

No eye contact was made.

The loft door opened, and I looked round to see the empty chair.

The Boss had gone.

My Little Owl Video

Our static van is a bird paradise with around 70-80 bird species on and around the site.

One owl I had looked for but never found was the Little Owl.

I spent many hours scouring the countryside on some wild goose chases.

One afternoon me and my wife Ruth went for a walk from the site; after a mile along a country lane I looked up at this building sitting in a field about 100 feet from the lane.

“God look Ruth! There is the Little Owl I have been looking for so long.”

It spotted us from a distance but just seeing it was fantastic and my head started spinning thinking of my next plan of action

The next farm up was very close so being new to the area I made a point of contacting the farmer (a man called John), who was very interested in what I was doing. He gave me permission to go in the field next to the building.

I researched the behaviour of the Little Owl and found out that they come out at dusk and have a habit of sitting on fence posts.

I did a recce looking for signs of the owl.

After two weeks of of observing it I purchased a trail camera. This is a camera that captures anything that moves, triggered by sensors.

The plan worked well with some lovely footage of it sitting on the post.

I hadn’t realised that it makes itself bigger and lets out a call as it rises up.

The experience was amazing, and with no still images I still had a challenge on my hands to get a photograph.

Enjoy this lovely video of it on the post.

Day Two

Birds in flight

Sony A7r4+200-600

  • Settings
  • f6.3
  • ISO2000
  • Shutter 1/2000
  • Metering Centre
  • Focus Mode Zone
  • High speed burst plus
  • Handheld

Weather

  • Dull / Overcast

AIM

To capture birds in flight from my decking area.

The birds were busy today, so it was a chance to try birds in flight, but the weather was overcast so I had to bump the ISO up.

It worked out ok, with the young Goldfinch being the best option to capture them as they looked for a space on the feeding area.

I’m very happy with the results so it can only get better with brighter weather, but I think it is a great challenge to work with the camera in dull overcast weather at 6.3 aperture.

I couldn’t miss the chance of the Goldfinch on the Lily and Nuthatch

The Wonderful Bird and Animal Species on the Site

Arriving at the site in March 2014, the location we had chosen is a hidden gem. the

Animals and birds live here in a relaxed environment, with woods, open fields, and a lake.

The sunset over the lake is most beautiful in autumn and winter.

Having the abundance of wildlife on my doorstep made me feel so lucky we had chosen this site.

Below are a few images taken from 2014-2020.

The Amazing Detail of the Sony A7r4+200-600

The detail on a bird’s body is like it has been computer generated.

Feathers of all sizes and shapes begin at the head and continue down to the tail feathers.

The resolution you keep with the A7r4 gives you so much room when editing, coming from an APS.C sensor to a full frame camera didn’t bother me from 1.6 crop factor to 35mm.

The Sony 61mp is huge and if you’re not close enough you can use a APS-C mode that gives you extra reach but cuts the resolution down from 61mp to 26mp.

I took these today when the light was poor using an ISO 800 and a Shutter speed of 1/800 on f6.3.

Look at the bird’s eye and the resolution in the bird’s feathers – how clear they are.

Juvenile Robin Sony A7r4+200-600
Female Chaffinch Sony A7r4+200-600
Nuthatch Sony A7r4 200-600
Collard Dove Sony A7r4+200-600

The joy this camera has given me has opened up a new world.

Having the dynamic range and confidence that you can crop in camera is amazing. The beast 200-600 is so sharp it is a wildlife photographer’s dream; so sharp even at 600, and most of the time there is no sharpening needed.

Anyone wanting help with settings, or if you can’t get the images it should be producing, let me know – I’d be glad to help.

The Dipper

The River Greta is about two miles from our site, and has two species of bird I love to film – th