A Year.

2020, without a doubt, has been the most surreal year I have every lived through. I think it is fair to say that this will be a universal truth for everybody.

Reflecting over the past year it strikes me just how quickly this year has gone, it doesn’t seem that long ago we were preparing for the original lock-down in March. I cannot believe that in a matter of weeks we will be welcoming in a brand new year.

Personally I have really struggled this year. My mental health has been affected severely by the uncertainty of the year, not only by the world wide pandemic but insidious battles I had thought I had previously won, which have raised their ugly head to add to an already vulnerable year.

At present I am still struggling with the day to day, the self abuse and lack of motivation continues, still feeling withdrawn from friends and family, I keep dwelling on reasons on why I don’t belong here. I apologise for being very blunt with my mindset, I am hopeful that the fact I am very self aware of these symptoms means I am starting the road to recovery. (I hope that makes sense)

I thought to try and focus on something good, I would look back at my year in regards to my photography. So in the gallery of this post are my personal favourites of the year, in no particular order.

This year has definitely been the year of macro!

This genre of photography has really taken my heart. It was my saving grace during the 1st lock-down, giving me a goal each day. I loved spending days in the garden, finding whatever mini beasts I could, trying not to scare them off, while trying to get close and trying to get a decent snap.

I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of macro. I get such a sense of achievement with my macro work, more so than any other genre.

Who would have ever thought, that by the end of this year I would absolutely, without a doubt, love spiders and wasps!

I am usually one of those people that like the colder months, the colours of Autumn , the festive season with cosy evenings in but I am hankering for the warmer months just for the macro season.

One of my aims regarding my macro shooting in the new year, is to source a better diffuser for my flash gun to take my shots to another level. Its a genre I desperately want to improve in.

One of the things I have learnt this year, is how little I knew about insects, bugs and spiders.

Everytime I shot something new it was so exciting finding out what they were, how they lived, giving me a new found appreciation for this small world that we live so closely to but have very little knowledge of (in my case for sure).

A great example of this was my post on the subject of wasps, a creature you think you know. Its such a common insect and usually very disliked by people. The more I researched them the more I realised how needed they are in the ecosystem and what amazing insects they truly were. I wander what under appreciated creature I will learn about next year?

In the times where travel was permitted, I am extremely grateful to have been to some absolutely gorgeous locations. Top of the list for me was the very popular Mam Tor. I had never been to the Peak District before this visit, the views were absolutely glorious, awe inspiring really. I am hoping if we are able to next year, to find plenty more locations in the Peaks, its an area I am keen to explore in more detail.

This year nature and wildlife has reined supreme for me. The natural world never ceases to amaze me and I am never bored with what it offers. This I am certain will continue not only into the new year but always.

I will now take this moment to Thank all of you for supporting the blog this year. From putting up with all my moaning and my mental health roller coaster ride, I truly appreciate the fact you take the time to read my posts. I love writing and I really hope that comes across with the blog, it helps me think differently and try (try) not to always focus on the negative.

THANK YOU SO MUCH! It means the absolute world to me.

I really wish you all a very Merry Christmas and I hope the New Year finds you happy, healthy and prosperous!

Have you got any aims for the new year? Do you have any favourites shots from the year? I would love to hear from you.

I will probably not blog now until the new year, I am taking time out to get better and start afresh in the new year hopefully motivated and feeling creative.

Until next time, take care.

Sunsets, Sandwell and Galls

Another quiet week this end, with getting ready for the kids to go back to school and my own struggles with creative motivation, photography has taken a bit of a back seat recently. I’m trying not to put pressure on myself to just shoot anything for the sake of it, I love photography and I would hate for it to feel become a chore.

There are so many avenues with photography, I’m just at a bit of a crossroads in where to go next. Inspiration is much needed.

The menagerie of images this week come from my home, RSPB Sandwell Valley, Malvern Hills and a local woods.

The first image is of the stunning sunset that generated beautiful hues over the county last week, which was unexpected. It was hard to resist, snapping a quick phone phone shot of the colours that adorned the sky. Autumn and winter sunsets when the conditions are just right are very hard to beat.

Next, a lovely walk was just the right start to the weekend that was much needed. RSPB Sandwell Valley has been on my location list for a while, its a lovely urban green space in Birmingham. Although quite busy with people, as I was walked around, I didn’t feel on top of others out for their dose of fresh air.

I managed to see two Herons on the walk round the reserve, one in flight and the other on the water side, not hunting, just watching the passersby very carefully.

Herons always remind me of The Animals of Farthing Wood cartoon I remember watching as a child. For those who aren’t aware of the show/books (written by Colin Dann) the story revolves around a collective of animals dislodged from their homes because of a housing development being built, thus destroying Farthing woods. They are all on the search for a new home. It was quite harrowing t.v. for a child, I remember characters dealing with death and homelessness, not all doom and gloom though the show/book also illuminated the need for good friends and looking out for each other.

Following on from the other evening, I couldn’t resist an outing to the Malvern Hills, to hopefully catch a colourful sunset. I always marvel at the views from the hills, scenery that seems to stretch out endlessly. I was lucky, although not the hues of the previous evening, the sunset glowed with golden light and I am happy with the shots I did take.

The last find was on a local walk, while taking the dog out. The brown galls made from the Silk-Button Gall Wasp caught my eye, from the underneath of an oak leaf just above my head.

Reading into the gall wasp is fasinating. They have two generations per year. One being asexual and the other agamic (all female and needs no male to reproduce).

The “silk button” galls pictured, are caused by the asexual generation of the gall wasp. Each button contains a single wasp larva. They can be seen on the leaves from August to October, until the leaves fall in autumn. The wasp larva will mature in August but remain in the gall on the ground throughout the winter, emerging the following year from February to April.

Small world nature has really pushed me to look deeper into the world around us, there is so much activity happening all the time that I am oblivious to. Knowing more about the environment around me, I learn to have a better appreciation of each plants, animals, insects, etc role in the ecosystem, and thinking of how I can help e.g having wildlife garden.

I hope the past week has found you well, until next time, take care.

One Year old!

Its my one year blogging anniversary!! I have now had this blog space for a whole year! Over that year this blog has changed quite a bit. From only logging my weekly wildlife sightings to my more recent journal like approach covering days out, mental health and still (hopefully) any wildlife seen.

I would like to thank all those that have taken the time to read my ramblings and peruse my photographs over the past year. I really appreciate all the support I have had so far.

My aim for the future of the blog; is to keep improving my writing, run a tighter blogging schedule to posting new blogs (although this has already improved greatly since last year) and to hopefully provide content you will all continue to enjoy.

I have had a little break since my last blog, still overwhelmed by my new camera and a few bad days mentally, I made the decision to not rush back to writing as I needed space to collect my thoughts. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your own sanity is to say no or take a step back to reclaim yourself a little.

I am now very ready and mentally prepared to move forward and let you know exactly what I have been up to in those 2 weeks off.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kinder-edale-and-the-dark-peak/trails/mam-tor-circular-walk

The first big visit was the famous Mam Tor (mother hill) in the Peak District near Castleton. I had never been to the peaks before and boy! did it win my heart, I did not not want to leave!

As soon as you enter Derbyshire the landscape grabs you, views over peaks and valleys, lush and green as far as the eye could see. It was truly awe inspiring.

Mam Tor has a walking trail by the National Trust. you can either just walk to the top of Mam tor or continue on the ridge walk to Losehill. I did the latter. Its not hard to see why this destination is so popular.

I will admit, the day I visited was quite busy, fortunately Mam tor is big enough to accommodate everyone and be able to socially distance!

I really hope from my photos you get just a tiny sense of how beautiful it was from there.

My next day out was a seaside day to Burnham on sea, this quiet seaside resort offers a great alternative to the bigger more touristy resorts around the UK. The day I visited the beach was quiet, people were spaced out easily. This is a great place to visit if you just want a beach day, no gimmicks.

I happened to visit on the hottest day of the year, but the cool sea wind made the heat bearable. I love being by the coast, I always have. There is just something about being next to the sea which is so calming.

The final visit to end the last 2 weeks was to Carding Mill and the Long Mynd in shropshire.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carding-mill-valley-and-the-long-mynd

Shropshire being another part of the country I have never ventured to before. I have felt guilty with these visits that I am so under traveled around the UK. There some absolute treasures around this fair isle, I have recently made the purchase of a tent to hopefully be able to venture to more locations and be able to give them more time, to appreciate their character.

Back to Carding Mill, another absolutely stunning landscape, I walked the moderate trail that leads to view the light sprout waterfall. I don’t think I saw even a tenth of the location. It gives me a great excuse to return. (I have a huge list of places to return to, I really really hope this is one I get around to revisiting).

One thing about all these hill walks; it has shown me I really need to improve my fitness! Has anyone else struggled with keeping fitness motivation and activity up during the lockdown?

Lastly a word on the glorious sunsets we have been experiencing recently, they really crept up on me one evening. I missed one evening out shooting the sunset as I had noticed too late the brilliant colours of the setting sun. I sulked that on that evening extremely determined to get out the next night, which I achieved.

The locations are random, chasing the light in the car stopping by fields where I felt the view was good enough. The resulting images show a sky that looks like it is on fire. No sulking that evening, I love a good sunset, but then again who doesn’t?

I will end with another big THANK YOU! for all the support, comments, likes, subs and generally just taking the time to read my blog. Here’s to the next year!

Until next time, Take care.

July.

How are we already in July? The most surreal year; I think any of us have ever experienced, has definitely not rested on its laurels. In a way I am grateful for this speed as with each passing month hopefully means a month closer to getting back to some sort of normality.

An attempt to partake in some sort of pre-lockdown activity this week, I visited Croome Court. I knew that once the National trust had reopened Croome I would like to visit. You have to prebook tickets for a set timeslot, you are unable to enter the properties, but this did not phase me as the grounds of Croome court are exquisite,

The walk did not disappoint, I was even lucky enough to see a Heron in the lake hunting, unfortunately they did not manage to make a catch while I was there, although it did aid my photograph snapping; Herons stand so still while they are stalking potential prey.

Another day and another walk, this time on the Malvern hills. Views from the top, over Worcestershire and Herefordshire are breathtaking. Patchwork fields, glittering water sources and of course the hills themselves all offer their charm as you walk further up the hills.

Garden macro photography has continued to be a source of comfort when I am unable to go out. The flower beds are still providing beautiful blooms, this weeks offering being the bright orange of the Calendula.

There are still a good number of flowers yet to bloom and I cannot wait to see what has flourished from the seeds I had previously scattered (a wild flower mix). The wild mustard flowers are currently the main attraction for insects, with various hover flies and bees visiting the delicate yellow flowers.

I hope you have all had a great week, until next time, take care.

Finding the words

I apologise for the lack of posts recently, in truth I just haven’t been able to find the words. There have been so much to process over the past couple of weeks, it felt frivolous for me to jump onto here to write as if everything was “normal”

This year from the get go has been one trauma to the next. In my recollection there hasn’t been another year like this before. I don’t really talk about news events in these posts, concentrating instead on the photography and even more recently mental health (in hopes of helping others).

So in that same vain of wanting to help others; I am going to add my voice to plead with those who haven’t yet to support Black Lives Matter. Sign the petitions for justice for those who are no longer able to speak, donate (if you are able to), for white people (myself included) to educate yourselves and to have those difficult conversations with those around you about our privilege and what ways we need to be more receptive to learn and move forward as allys, it is up to us to do better.

There are so many heartbreaking and anger inducing situations that should never have happened. From the murders by people who are paid to protect their citizens to birders being reported to the police and having their colour weaponised when politley asking for someone to put a lead on their dog in an area that dogs should be on lead.

I am not qualified to lecture on how these affected their communities, as a white woman I can never fully understand how it feels to be judged, discriminated against because my skin colour/religion/ethnicity is different. When will ignorant people learn that different is not dangerous.

This isn’t a trend, when the news dies down and the next big story break, I urge you to continue to seek out and learn from diverse voices, support diverse companies, look at how you can help to move forward and create an equal footing for all.

I’ve started by talking to my own children about these horrendous acts, it doesn’t matter what age they are, you are never too young/old to learn about (in)justice, equality and privilege.

I will leave links for a few of the petitions I hope you add your name to:

https://www.change.org/p/andy-beshear-justice-for-breonna-taylor

https://www.change.org/p/minneapolis-police-department-justice-for-george-floyd

https://www.change.org/p/suspend-uk-export-of-tear-gas-rubber-bullets-and-riot-shields-to-usa?source_location=petitions_browse

https://www.change.org/p/the-school-system-petition-for-changes-to-be-made-to-the-school-system-to-address-racial-issues-in-the-uk

Nature is a therapy for me, it should be inclusive for all. When I go out with the camera, yeah …I may worry my equipment might get damaged or stolen at worst. I’ve never had to explain to others about my nature watching, or worry others may discriminate while I am out because of the colour of my skin.

I hope we can move forward to a place where can never be the case again, its an uncomfortable journey for us white people, it should be. I am willing to learn and I hope other white people reading this too are to.

Below I have still provided my most recent pictures, I still chose to share them in this post as questioning and learning about racial inequality and how to change behaviors to aid those who most need it should be the new normal and is not separate from my everyday.

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

Always Ready For The Fall.

What goes up must come down.

For the past couple of weeks my mental health has been in quite a positive state, I’ve been feeling confident with my photography, putting effort into improving my editing and outside of photography my mood has been buoyant and bright.

Then comes the fall, I am always grateful for the times when my mental health is secondary to everything else, I always try to make the most of these periods because I am aware that it might not last.

I know this could be construed as a counter productive way to think, but being aware of when my mental health is starting to flag can really help deter a full breakdown.

It’s so frustrating knowing that just over a week ago I was feeling proud of what I had been producing; to then have this week doubting everything I have ever done in photography.

Self doubt has always been a common thread in these blog posts and it isn’t an exclusive feeling to my photography.

I doubt myself all the time, I constantly worry about silly things e.g. my instagram profile picture gets changed regularly because I worry how people perceive my face. It’s not something I do to others and I don’t understand why I think others would do that to me. There isn’t any rationality to an anxious mind.

I am taking steps for self care, currently I am able to look for small positives from each day and hopefully this low ebb will just be a blip.

Getting outdoors is so important for my recovery, so at the weekend I made a real effort to get out. The Japanese have a practise called shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) taking the time to appreciate nature is a recommended therapy in Japan to help improve health, I have to agree. I always feel better when I’ve been on one of my walks, even if it’s only a slight improvement it’s better than none.

First stop was Crickley Hill country park, offering stunning views over Gloucestershire. The weather was clear, with stunning blue skies (that reminded me of the old screen picture from Microsoft XP). The only downside was the wind, at times it was so strong it took my breath away.

On the way home, took a slight detour to shoot Dunstall Castle, Earls Croome, Worcestershire. This folly has been a location I have been past many times, I had never thought to shoot it before.

The following day with no other plans, which is unusual for a sunday, off I went to Trimpley reservoir. Its strange finding local destinations from web searches, as I feel bad for not knowing about them sooner.

The Severn Valley railway runs past this location and I managed to capture one of the trains that pass through, along with one of the many boats that were on the water that day. I really felt for those who were sailing as the weather was very eclectic, sunny one moment to hailing the next.

Unlike last week, the shots I have provided on this post I don’t feel so positive about (at the moment anyway), I am hoping that in the coming days/weeks I can return to these and feel different about them.

I hope you enjoy what I have shared, and i’m wishing for a more uplifting post next week.

Snap Happy

With all the bad weather we have been having lately, it would have been quite easy for me to want to hibernate and not venture out to shoot. In truth; the reality has been the complete opposite. The photography muses must have been with me this week.

In between the downpours and the worst of the blustery winds, I have been out in the garden with the camera. Displays of vivid greens and resilient blooms have inspired the majority of my pictures.

Around the feeders, the hedgerow has been a hive of activity. Like myself, the birds have been making the most of the breaks in the weather. Fights over territory and food have been commonplace. I have been quite surprised to see how bolshy Blue Tits can be, they are not phased in taking on the bigger birds.

Moving away from the garden, I took a trip to Kinver Edge and Rock houses at the weekend. I must admit I was completely unaware of this location beforehand, it’s an absolute gem.

Scrolling through the National Trust site I knew I wanted to stay local. Stumbling upon this location it looked very intriguing and offered something different to the standard stately homes or parks.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kinver-edge-and-the-rock-houses

There is plenty of interest as you walk around, from the striking red sandstone to the views from the Edge, the pretty gorse flowering on the hillside and of course the Rock houses themselves.

I feel bad for not knowing about this site sooner, it is a definite recommendation from me; not only for photography opportunities. The surrounding area offers lots of different walks and I look forward to returning and taking different routes.

As I write this post the bad weather, for the time being, has subsided and there are even sunny spells. I’m feeling positive moving into the new week and hopeful my photography motivation holds fast.

Croome

Chasing Otters

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome

While I attended Camera Club last week, I learnt that a local National Trust property had wild otters living on their site.

One of the very talented club members had given a presentation of the photographs they had taken in the previous year. A couple of which held the invaluable information that has excited me all week.

As the presentation started I had no inkling to what I was about to learn, I have been to Croome on many occasions through the years, it is a very striking property. There are already so many photographic opportunities there, I was completely unaware of their special inhabitants.

It was an easy decision on where I would be heading this weekend. I had to try and see an otter, I have never seen one in the wild. The week was a long one, especially with me counting down to the day I could get to Croome.

With the news full of weather predictions for the weekend looking negative, storm Ciara was on her way. I was worried I would have to wait another week before I could get there, which I realise isn’t the biggest worry I should have but I was just so excited to think I could see otters.

Thankfully Saturday was blessed with sunny skies, I couldn’t have been luckier!

As soon as I had arrived at Croome, I hot footed it to the river that surrounds the grounds. Interesting fact; the river at Croome is not a natural one, it was dug out by hand in the 1760s as part of a water feature.

The location to which I had been informed the otters could be, was south from the court and over the Chinese bridge. I crossed excitedly and once across walked along the bank stopping the opposite side to a holt purpose built for the otters.

I turned my head left then right, checking my surroundings. Suddenly immediately in front of me was an otter! I was in shock I didn’t expect to see one that quickly. They were in the centre of the river, their head was the the only part visible.

I almost thought I was seeing things, as soon as it was noticed it had vanished beneath the water. I loitered for ages hoping for another glimpse and the chance to get a picture for myself.

Unfortunately I didn’t see them again, but I am just so grateful to have seen them in the first place. I know that they are defiantly there and I look forward to trying to spot them again over the year.

Making the most of the great weather and the beautiful surroundings, the rest of my day was spent shooting around the grounds.

The bright conditions offered the right lighting for monotone shots. I am really starting to appreciate monotone edits for some of my pictures, especially the architectural shots, I feel it can enrich texture and really add mood to a shot.

Following on from last weeks post, this week has been markedly more positive. It has helped that I have had something to focus on, a goal to look forward to. Not to say all the week has been easy, but any week where the anxiety/depression is secondary is a win.

I look forward to where the following week will take me, fingers crossed for more new discoveries.

Winter Sun

Since the year began I have had this yearning to go somewhere for a proper good walk, the sort that you could say “it blows the cobwebs out” about. With each new year this has become a sort of tradition (weather permitting).

This past weekend the weather was perfect, a clear frosty morning, with bright blue skies inspired the thought and offered hope of being able to get some beautiful sunset pictures.

The Malvern hills was the chosen location for this, somewhere I have been to on many occasions growing up and could never get bored of, as the views are tremendous. I had never been at sunset, so this offered a new experience to an old location.

With the help of Google, I researched the time the sun would go down that day, I set off very optimistic, excited for what I was about to shoot.

The winter sunsets (and sunrises too) recently have been stunning, full of pinks, purples, oranges and blue hues.

In the photographs I’ve provided I hope they give a sense on how stunning the sky was at that time and how the view looked that evening.

The walk definitely blew the cobwebs out! The fresh air filled my lungs and frost from the morning still clung to the hills. I had brought with me, my tripod (I am getting better at being prepared for shoots) and set it up along different pathways offering different viewpoints.

The problem with sunsets is they don’t ever last as long as you want them too. I made the most of the time available and kept shooting as the light changed with the setting sun.

Something different for this blog too, I have provided some phone snaps, I generally use my phone for photos when I am out on a shoot but they don’t usually measure up to the dslr ones. However; this time with the light being so good, these snaps were just as effective.

I really like the way these photos have turned out. I’ve mentioned numerous times landscapes isn’t a particularly strong photography genre of mine, but I am definitely gaining more confidence and learning from each shoot.

The next day, along with the frost came a light mist, hard to resist I set out again to get more landscape shots. As before I took the pictures with my phone, and same again, I was quite happy with the outcome.

I really hope this winter sun continues for the coming weeks, offering more picturesque skies. I am currently unsure on where the next week will take me, but I looking forward to it.

Preparation, practice and improve.

https://www.worcswildlifetrust.co.uk/nature-reserves/knapp-and-papermill

For those of you that have read my previous blog posts, it would come as no surprise for you to hear me “confess” that I am not a confident person. I worry constantly about what I publish; whether it is interesting enough, whether the quality of what I post is good enough, if people are interested in what I have to comment on.

That is not to say I will not give it my best efforts, I am very determined and always looking to improve. I have stated previously (on many posts, I feel) that the best way to improve is to practice. The more I shoot and write the better/more confident I should potentially get!

Which leads me onto this weeks excursion.

I went for a lovely walk around the Knapp and Papermill nature reserve, Worcestershire. (web page linked above)

The autumnal colours in the trees and grounds were spectacular. The colours were so rich and diverse, they were just stunning. I really wanted to demonstrate how I had seen them and to try to convey the mood from that day.

In all honesty, I left feeling deflated. I was quite dissapointed with the outcome of what I had shot.

Generally when I visit somewhere to shoot, I wing it. I dont have a clear vision on what I would like to capture beforehand, I just shoot as I please. It is becoming apparent now, as I push into new styles (for me) I cannot always use this approach.

I suppose I should be grateful to have had bad days, it gives me the opportunity to learn, I have needed to have days where I have felt dissapointed with my shots, to look inwardly into how to make them better, to see how I can get the best out of my time when out photographing at different locations.

You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.

Research is going to have to become a habit if I am serious about improving. I don’t just mean researching places, I need to research styles, look for inspiration and take advice. I don’t want to copy what others have done, I want to find my own way but need a starting point to go from.

Preparation can be key, just ensuring I have the right equipment, checking the weather, tracking the light, being aware of any vantage points, could help me gain confidence in a location, which should make a big difference to my resulting shots.

Below are the shots I am happy to share, although not the best quality they fit in how I saw the area and the colours that day.

I look forward to returning to the Knapp and Papermill to shoot again and hopefully see some improvement in my techniques and outcome.