Garden Birdwatch

From the 29th-31st January the RSPB will be holding its annual Big Garden Birdwatch, ones of the worlds largest bird surveys. To get involved all you need to do is pick one hour over the three days, could be day or night and count the birds you see visiting your garden/whatever you can see from your window (not counting birds in flight). Then to submit your results to rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

The results collected from these surveys are really important, for the past 40 years that this survey has occurred, they have been able to note what birds are in decline or on the rise visiting our local patches, e.g the Song Thrush was noted to decline in visiting numbers by 76% from 1979 to 2019. It helps identify what birds need help and what birds are thriving.

As you may of guessed I will be taking part, there aren’t many days anyway where I am not looking out into the garden to see what birds are there. One of my biggest aims with the new garden was to encourage more birds/wildlife to visit.

So far it has been successful. Offering a variety of bird food, from nuts, fat balls, fruit to seed has seen a flourish of new visitors to the garden.

A great activity I would recommend, something I have made very recently is my own bird feeder using pine cones. All you need is lard (do not use butter/margarine as this has a negative effect for the birds), bird seed mix, pine cones and twine. Letting the lard come up to room temperature mix in the seed and cover the pine cone (I would suggest tying the twine around the cone before doing this). Once covered, refrigerate the cones until the lard has hardened again. Now tie the feeder up somewhere in the garden and hopefully it should entice birds to visit.

If you are currently homeschooling this could be a great natural science activity, getting children involved in noticing the natural world and having fun getting messy mixing the seed with the lard (the best way is hand mixing!)

One of the newest visitors that I have managed to capture this week was the elusive Jay, for their size and their beautiful colouring they can be extremely difficult to spot. Only breaking cover to visit the ground feeder, they are very shy birds. I used my pop up hide to be able to get a snap of them, sat in the hide it took a while for them to get used to me being there and brave visiting, I could only just about see them as they hovered around the garden border in cover.

I was absolutely thrilled to see them into the garden and be able to document it with the picture. I really hope that they become regulars. Other newcomers have included a Greater spotted Woodpecker, Blackcaps, Green Finch, Chaffinch and Goldcrest. I have not been able to decent snaps of these but again I am hopeful they will return.

I have been trying to get out into the garden as much as I can, especially as this past week my mental health has been all over the place. I have mentioned on numerous posts how soothing being out in nature for me, its not a fix but it is a stop gap for my mind, to focus on something outwardly rather than being stuck within my own negative thoughts.

I have been trying to make a real effort in not being so self critical recently. To try and ignore the voice at the back of my head that tells me no-one likes me, I am not good enough and that I am doing everything wrong. This is easier said than done, I fail at it a lot but I am going to keep trying for my own sanity.

I hope that you are all managing to keep your spirits up or if not that you are able to recoop and talk it out. Until next time, take care.

2021

Since my last post: we have entered a new year, commenced a new lockdown and have been given hope in the form of a new vaccine.

Firstly, I would like to begin by wishing you all a very happy new year, I really hope the festive season has been kind to you all and the new year has started well despite the new measures that have recently been put into place.

As if the festive season was not hectic enough, I added a house move to the mix. A lot of my mental health was tested with packing, unpacking and adjusting to the change.

One of the huge positives from the move is the new garden, which houses an abundance of nature that is well established, I have been reading on ways to potentially attracting more too. A goal for the year. I look forward to seeing if I manage this.

Nature has always been a great remedy for me, if I am feeling anxious, watching the birds at the feeder can be a great distraction. It may not take my worries away, but it allows me time to settle my thoughts, calm and focus.

So in-between of unpacking and settling in, I have been out in all weathers to sit in garden with the camera.

Even out in snow! Which was a very welcome surprise, it generally misses the area where I live, usually favoring higher regions. I find snow so enchanting, I just adore it, almost as much as my pooch. Its the first time Lance has encountered snow and he absolutely loved it, bounding around like a puppy, it was a struggle getting him back into the house.

Bird watching has been a big focus while out with the camera, top of my wishlist for the future is a pop up hide, there have been Jays who I have seen visit, who I am desperate to capture but are too shy to enter the garden with me in view.

A completely new sighting for me which I did manage to get a quick snap of, who is also the UKs smallest bird (alongside the Firecrest) is a Goldcrest. This bird is perpetually in motion, a blur of movement between branches, I was surprised to get any shot that was in focus. I am very excited to say that I have noticed it in the garden a few times, I am hopeful that this will remain the case for the coming months.

Macro was my savior during the original lockdown, unfortunately it will take a back seat due to the colder months. Although I did manage to get a snowflake shot, which is just as difficult as shooting a jumping spider! Bird, wildlife and nature will be my aim to shoot this time around.

How is everyone feeling about the new lockdown?

I have to say personally I am relieved. With the numbers of positive tests and hospital admittance’s on the rise, it makes sense for there to be more restrictions on daily life for the present moment.

There is hope in the form of a vaccine, which over the coming months with be administered to the most vulnerable in society. These times are hopefully temporary. A necessity to overcome these surreal times.

I know the thought of another lockdown can be scary, I can only hope that with the restrictions in place and the jab being rolled out we are on the final, hardest stretch before we can return to a type of normality.

If you do find yourself struggling with your mental health, I can only implore you to reach out, to family, friends, charities. We need to support each other more than ever.

I shall leave you with the shots I took throughout December. As you can see, Robins are a prominent feature. These feisty little birds have been a regular to the garden and have been serenading me since I moved in (nothing to do with defining territories, or attracting a mate).

I wish you all the best, until next time, take care.

Last Hurrah!

The past weekend brought with it a distinct drop in temperature. It’s the first time, in a long time, where I have felt cold while out shooting. Even with the sun shining the chill in the air was palpable.

My main focus for this shoot was a huge ivy bush which was absolutely teeming with life. Wasps, bees and a huge hornet were all bustling around the still in flower ivy.

It felt a little bit like a last hurrah for my macro. With the cooler temperatures setting in the macro season will be slowly drawing to a close.

Not many insects are active over winter, some lay dormant as adults throughout the winter to emerge again in the spring. An interesting word I learnt when reading into overwintering insects was diapause (insect hibernation).

This particular ivy bush provided an incredible bounty of pollen, still in flower, it offered a vital source for the insects that visited it.

There were plenty of wasps around, fighting over available flowers, between themselves and anything that dared to visit. One unfortunate honey bee was mobbed by a feisty wasp that appeared to sting the bee! It took me a while to realise what had I had seen. Some amazing behavior to witness, unfortunately I did not get a shot.

Honey bees were quite prevalent, as was a single, huge hornet. Its amazing how much bigger hornets are on relation to wasps and bees, seeing them side by side. They were flying too high for me to get a decent capture but were fascinating to observe, they appeared sluggish compared to the frantic to-ing and fro-ing of the wasps.

It was great to focus on my macro again, unfortunately my mental health still isn’t the best but its on the up. Positives for me to think upon were; I was motivated to be out with the camera, I enjoyed being out with the camera and I am pleased with what I captured.

Some of the snaps I managed to get over the past weekend are some of my best, in my opinion. Thinking of what I would like to achieve next with my macro photography, I would really like to learn how to stack images, this can take images to the next level in terms of image quality and how much detail can be seen in the image.

I think its important for me to keep learning on how to improve, I am not one to be complacent with my shots. If there are any tips for stacking, diffusing light, or general photography advice, I would love to hear them!

I hope your week has been a great one, until next time, take care.

A Wobble

The past week for the most part has been a good one, between the rain showers I had managed to get into the garden to shoot more macro, including my favourite spider ( their charm has definitely not worn off).

Also managed another visit to Grimley gravel pits, where again I had been pleasantly surprised by the diversity of birds residing there.

Things were going well until at Grimely my camera suddenly and without warning became inactive. I have to say this threw my into quite an anxious head space. Those that have read this blog for a while will know the importance photography has been for my mental well being.

My blog began through my passion for photography. Throughout lockdown I cannot say there has been a day where I haven’t been out with the camera. The thought of being without this, in all honesty scares me.

The snapping at Grimley was cut short, luckily at home even with connectivity issues I managed to upload the picture I managed to capture onto my laptop. My camera as it is now isn’t working.

This is such a huge blow to me, unfortunately I am not in a position to fix/ re-buy a camera straight away, this leaves me in a very strange place. To say it hasn’t effected my recent mood would be lying.

It may see silly to get so worked up about an item, but my camera is so much of my sanity, my worth. Its my creative outlet, my focus and without it I am unsure what the future holds.

I endeavor to continue the blog, I will always try to include pictures (phone snaps), I still hope you continue to enjoy what I post.

I hope you week has been a good one, until next time, take care.

A New Place To Roam.

There aren’t many things that fill me with as much joy as finding new photography locations. This past week I have managed to find not one but two! The variety of wildlife at both of these locations will give me plenty to capture as the year goes on.

The first location was a relatively local set of ponds, covered with reeds, it housed plenty of ducks, moorhens and even the odd brown rat. Its a place I am more than certain I will return to regularly.

I love feeding the ducks. I would assume most peoples first encounter with wildlife would be feeding the ducks or swans as a youngster. It is something that I will never grow out of, the only difference these days is that I don’t feed them bread, I take seed which the ducks still guzzle down enthusiastically.

At the pond there were plenty of new life, baby ducklings, moorhen chicks and young rats. I really hope to see how these families progress as time moves on.

The second location was a circular walk along the River Avon. Along the river side there were plenty of dragon flies, damsel flies, butterflies and swallows, whizzing past to catch the midges over the water. I had hoped to potentially see kingfishers, so I had favored my longest lens, leaving my macro at home, a decision I would regret with the amount of mini beasts around. Again, as with the ponds, I am very eager to return.

The swallows were fascinating to watch, catching their query along the river, I tried numerous times to get in flight shots but they were just so quick. I did discover that there were a few nesting pairs beneath a railway bridge and managed to capture a shot of a single Swallow perched on one of the steels. They are beautiful birds when you can study them and are not just a blur.

I also saw my first Sedge Warbler, a flit of movement in the reed bed across the river caught my eye. It took a long while to locate the source and even then the picture isn’t the clearest. I am relativity new to birding really, apart from watching garden birds. There are many firsts to be had even with abundant varieties, I look forward to what I manage to capture in the future.

Since the lockdown restrictions have started to ease, I have been trying to look for walks that would not be too busy, for ease of social distancing. I need to be in green space, there is something about being out in nature that just calms my mind. I have struggled this week with extremes of highs and lows, but when I am out feeding ducks or walking along a field, I am level.

I really hope you are all keeping well, until next time take care.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

After a very brief break from blog writing, I’m back with what I hope you find a great variety of captures. The opportunities for photography in the garden recently has been fantastic.

The bird feeder has started to attract a great variety of birds and the mini beasts have been out in force during the warmer weather we have been lucky to have experienced recently.

I have been setting myself goals each day for what I would hope to snap each session. Of course nature is very unpredictable and I have to be flexible as to what is available to shoot.

Generally, I will start by choosing which lens I will be using for that day ( a choice between my 150-600mm or macro 105mm lens). This determines what I will be trying to shoot, e.g macro lens for mini beasts or flora.

I’ve really enjoyed being able to mix my photography up in this way. It has allowed me the focus on a particular subject each day rather than trying to capture absolutely everything, which could result with me missing photographic opportunities and more than likely leave me frustrated.

An update on the garden, another small flower bed had been dug over and more wildflowers have been sown. The flower bed I mentioned in my previous post has now sprung to life, small seedlings are beginning to poke their heads out through the soil. These are very exciting times.

I am unsure as to what project I will next kick start for the garden, a wildlife pond maybe? or more flower beds? I will keep you updated.

Spirits have continued to remain high during the brief writing break, I repeat myself often when I say this; but I am very grateful for times when this is the case for my mental well being. I have been keeping myself active with other small activities that have helped tremendously. Activities as simple as, baking a loaf of bread with a very established and active sourdough starter I started (RuRu), gives me a sense of achievement.

I hope you are all managing to remain positive as lock down continues, if not please, please reach out. We are in this together! Until next time, take care.

Back to Nature

It’s such a great feeling to be getting back to the norm after all the festivities of Christmas and the new year. Getting back to routine and being able to blog again is brilliant, the laptop is fixed and with a brand new year; it brings new hopes and new possibilities.

The first few days of this new year I have gone back to one of my joys and to how this blog began, nature photography.

The hedgerow has been a hive of activity; with lots of birds coming to the feeder; laden with mixed seeds and nuts, which at this time of year serves as a lifeline to our resident species.

The visiting Robins have been constantly singing, their song ringing out around the garden, making even the dullest grey day bearable. These brave little birds are always close when I am out shooting, probably waiting to see if I will provide them more food. As they perch in the hedgerow it appears like they are posing for me, and who wouldn’t blame them, they are very striking with their red breast, making them stand out in the bare hedges.

A new visitor to the garden has been the Coal Tit. At first I mistook it for a Great Tit variant, but the more I observed the more I realised this was a new visitor. There has been a lot of fierce competition around the feeder especially when groups of tits (Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit and now the Coal Tit) and sparrows are around. The Coal Tits have had no trouble holding their own. I look forward to seeing them return to the garden in the coming year (fingers crossed).

Speaking of other Tit varieties, the Long Tailed Tit has been a regular visitor to the garden since last summer. They are very charismatic tiny birds, they come into the garden all of a sudden, in groups and as soon as they arrive, they leave. They tend to evade me when I have the camera out, until that is, this weekend where I managed to capture two photos with them about to fly.

I am so pleased with the outcome of those photos, going forward, with my nature photography in particular I would like to shoot more birds in flight.

The last picture for this week is the first quarter moon of the year. The sky was really clear and the moon was bright, it was not a hard decision to get the camera out to shoot.

It may be of interest to some to note, the first full moon of the year (wolf moon) will be the 10th January and is meant be a penumbral eclipse (meaning the moon doesn’t pass through the full shadow of the Earth which should hopefully give the moon a pinkish/red shade) so I am wishing the night sky will be just as clear then.

Weekly Watch

26th August – 1st September 2019

This past week the hedgerow has been a hive of activity; the House sparrows have been making the most of the good weather and the abundant ripe blackberries.

It has been a glorious sight to observe them filling their beaks with the available fruits, making them a slightly red/purple hue.

This (to me) acts as one of the signifying signs to the end of summer. I now look forward to capturing a new Autumnal season, with its jewelled tones and crisp days.

With the changing of the season brings a new avenue for my photography, if you have read any of my previous blog posts, you may be aware that I am always looking to push my photography further. So for this I have very recently joined a camera club.

I am feeling quite positive about the coming months, meeting up with like minded people, being able to gain knowledge through practice and theory. Its all very exciting.

I mentioned last week that I was hoping to get more macro photography into my blog, I have not forgotten and the past weekend I had the pleasure to visit Stratford Butterfly Farm. https://www.butterflyfarm.co.uk/attraction/

I plan to post another blog containing the images I caught that day.

I hope you enjoy this weeks weekly.

Weekly Watch

19th – 25th August 2019

Most of the time when I go out with my camera, I know what I am shooting. House sparrows, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins etc… they are my comfort zone.

There have been quite a few times since I began blogging that I’ve had to research what I’ve seen. This week that has been in the form of a Damsel/Common Darter fly (still unsure).

Its always a thrill to capture something new and although there huge gaps in my knowledge of the natural world, I love learning.

My main ways for identifying is to go to reference books, asking on Instagram or google lens. This hasn’t worked out for me this week but I am down to 2 possible outcomes!

Macro photography is also one of my weakest styles, but one I’m keen to improve in. In the coming weeks I hope to add at least one macro shot to each weekly watch.

Expect a few mistakes in identifying, any correction is welcomed! I hope you enjoy this weeks weekly.

Weekly Watch

12th – 18th August 2019

From the lack of photography last week; this week has been distinctly better. Hooray!!

One of the reasons for this; I have finally been able to make the jump to a full framed DSLR. I am aware that this may not mean much to some. In Layman’s term; it’s a much improved camera.

Disclaimer: that is not to say my photos will be distinctly better (I am very much an amateur) I’ve been getting used to using it and there has been a lot of experimenting with settings (I won’t bore you with the technicalities, as I’d probably get it wrong anyway!).

So there has been lots of practising, whenever I get the chance to. I continue to focus on the bird feeder for my subjects.

My hope for the near future; once I’m confident with the new kit is to scout out a few nature spots near me to one; vary the content for you the viewer and two; push myself out of my comfort zone, which in turn should help me improve! Fingers crossed!

There have been a couple of comedic shots, my personal favourite is the Juvenile Robin seemingly getting told off by the Great tit. I hope you enjoy this weeks weekly.