Friday, 27 May 2011

Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos)

Yes, common enough, I know, but I like the composition and it's easy to forget just how attractive some of our most oft-seen wildlife is.

Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/320 sec, f/8, 368mm at ISO 640

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

The shag seems such an unlikely flier. It lacks the grace of, for example, a swan and those enormous webbed feet combined with afterthought tail feathers and scruffy, almost vulture-type wing tips lend it a distinctly prehistoric air. It is a real favourite of mine and I've posted these images because in the first I love the partial silhouette of the bird in flight and the context provided by the onlooking shag and razorbill; in the second, I like the feeling of intimacy, as if the camera has been allowed to witness a scene normally hidden from us; and in the third, I will never tire of the view down the vertiginous cliffs that are the shag's preferred nesting habitat.

Canon 1Ds Mk II, 1/8,000 sec, f/4, 176mm at ISO 200 (shot through a dense sea fog)
Canon 1Ds, MkII, 1/250 sec, f/8, 200mm at ISO 320
Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/400 sec, f/8, 24mm at ISO 200

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Such an emblematic and elegant bird. I desaturated the first of these two images simply because I preferred the clean feel it lent the shot.

Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/500 sec, f/8, 218mm at ISO 500

Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/500 sec, f/8, 400mm at ISO 500

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Redshank (Tringa totanus)

I'm confident there are serious birders out there who frown at the idea of photographing birds in captivity, feeling that it rails somehow against their purist principles. I have little time for that view; being able to observe uncommon, shy or reclusive species up close and personal offers intimacy and detail that in the wild is hard to achieve without the luxuries of a very long lens and a lot of time and patience. Observing them in captivity is in no way a substitute for that which we all love to do: namely witnessing the animal – whatever it is – in its natural surroundings, behaving, well, naturally. But these shots of a Redshank (Tringa totanus) show, I think, why I will continue to do both.

Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/160 sec, f/8, 336mm at ISO 640

Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/250 sec, f/8, 400mm at ISO 640
Canon 1DS MkII, 1/200 sec, f/8, 318mm at ISO 640

Monday, 16 May 2011

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

This image is posted here for two reasons. Firstly, the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is among my favourite animals and I like the feel of this shot, which – despite being taken through the chicken-wire fencing of the animal's enclosure –  has, I think, a charming intimacy. The second reason is in the hope that it might serve as a reminder of the precarious position in which it finds itself in the UK thanks to the introduction of the grey. For a family-based perspective on what we can all do to help, visit Save Our Squirrels or, for more detailed information, go to the Forestry Commission

Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/40 sec, f/8, 400mm at ISO 400

New life…

One of the joys of this time of the year is being able to witness the abundance of new life. Whether it's the emergence of a butterfly, a bud blossoming into colour or the first faltering footsteps of a new-born chick, the sense that the cycle of life is continuing is so rewarding. These simple shots – a barnacle goose with her brood and a mallard chick resting by the waterside – were taken in an attempt to offer a feel of this optimism.

All Canon 1Ds MkII 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Atlantic Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)

The Farne Islands in Northumberland are home to a population of around 6,000 of these 'hooked-nose sea pigs' (not my description, but from the translation of its rather unkind Latin scientific name). Protected in most of the UK since the Conservation of Seals Act of 1972, the communities are thriving. That's due in large part to the wealth of food available. Grey seals feed on a wide variety of fish and – like their near neighbours, the puffins – sand eels form an important part of their diet too. Indeed the seal's need for calories is such that its average daily intake is around 5kg (11 lb). The pups are born in the autumn and so some of the animals photographed here in April are probably yearlings or young adults. Adult males generally weigh in at 170-310kg, with adult females quite a bit smaller at 103-180kg. Pups are born measuring 90-105cm in length and weighing 10-18kg. The mortality rate for pups in their first year, though, can be as high as 30-55%. Females reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years, males at 4-6 years, although males may not attain territorial status until 8-10 years of age. Grey seals have been known to dive to depths of 300m and stay underwater for up to 20 minutes. Females normally live up to 35 years of age, males up to 25 years. The maximum recorded ages are 46 years for a female, 29 years for a male. (Source: Seal Conservation Society)

All shot on a Canon 1Ds MkII through a pretty dense sea fret. 1/1,600 sec, f/6.3, 200mm at ISO 320

Friday, 6 May 2011

Swallows (Hirundo rustica)

And here, as promised, is my second attempt on the swallows, this time with the sun a little lower in the sky. My knowledge of this visitor is not great (and certainly doesn't extend to identifying male and female on the wing), but this looked to me every inch an attempt at courtship: the male excited and eager; the female ambivalent at best.

All Canon 1Ds MkII 1/2,000 sec, f/8, 400mm at ISO 640

Swallows (Hirundo rustica)

From March through to October each year, the farm on which I live is alive with swallows, whirling overhead or skimming low over the pond, fields and farm yard. That they arrive each year is a miracle of migration and testimony to the wealth of insect food available and opportunities to nest. They vary, of course, but they are for me the very colours of Africa – their vivid blue wing feathers, the rich sand yellow of their undersides and the terracotta of their throats. None of which is evident in these failed attempts to capture them properly in harsh sunlight. I had hoped to shoot one in flight, but my word they're fast and I struggled to pan the lens quickly enough to get a decent shot. I will try again, but in the meantime here are a couple of near misses…

Canon 1Ds MkII 1/1,000 sec, f/13, 500mm at ISO 400

Canon 1Ds MkII 1/4,000 sec, f/7.1, 453mm at ISO 400

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Home sweet home…

I've just about finished editing the hundreds of images taken during a recent trip to Northumberland and the Farne Islands. I thought it would be nice to end with a mini-series that seems, for me, to encapsulate what the islands mean to the countless thousands of seabirds that visit each spring to make a nest, each of them finding a precious scrap of space on the crowded cliffs or – in the case of the returning puffins – a burrow further inland that they can call home. And all the effort is for one thing only… an egg and the opportunity for the cycle to begin over.

All Canon 1Ds MkII

1. 1/400 sec, f/4, 70mm at ISO 200
2. 1/400 sec, f/13, 140mm at ISO 400
3. 1/400 sec, f/8, 200mm at ISO 320
4. 1/1,300 sec, f/5.6, 170mm at ISO 250
5. 1/5,300 sec, f/6.3, 500mm at ISO 400

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Eider duck (Somateria mollissima)

Known, of course, for its luxuriously soft down, the eider has two other claims to fame – it is our heaviest resident duck and, despite that (or perhaps because of it), it is also the fastest in flight. This female – somewhat drabber than the ostentatious male – was nesting alongside a popular pathway on Inner Farne in Northumberland's magnificent Farne Islands but seemed totally unperturbed by the pedestrian traffic. Nice to get this close…

Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/60 sec, f/22, 70mm at ISO 200

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

I know they're not everyone's cup of tea and that the urban congregations can be noisy, intrusive and frankly annoying, but I have a soft spot for starlings. That's partly because in more rural areas, they are struggling (the widespread use of pesticides reducing their food supplies) and partly because – despite the condemnation inherent in their Latin name – I find their plumage as impressive as any common UK bird's. The greens and purples are iridescent in the right light and the triangular golden flecks shimmer beautifully like arrow heads. This one was shot on a quayside wall in Northumberland.

Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/125 sec, f/6.3, 500mm at ISO 250

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Gulls in the harbour

As I waited for a boat trip to Inner Farne in Northumberland, I had time to try to capture some of the gulls feeding in Seahouses harbour. The day was dominated by a thick sea fret, which engulfed the harbour in a dense mist and I was unsure whether any decent photography would be possible. As it turned out, however, the fret lent the images a real feel of the coast and, close up, conditions were perfect to catch one bird landing on the water with a flourish.

All Canon 1Ds MkII