Photo Shoot

Today’s post is a bit of a flash back in time to late May, when our lovely friend Anna came to stay. Anna and I have known each other for more years than I care to admit and her enthusiasm is just as inspiring now as it was when we were kids. Not only that though, but she just happens to be an amazing professional photographer.  So what do you do when you’ve got a talented photographer staying – family portraits? stunning landscapes? No you get the moth trap out! Anna’s just sent me some of the photos she took while she was here – hence me harking back to May with this post. If you can’t make the most of your talented friends and use them as a guest blog, well it would seem such a waste!

It’s not every guest that is keen to get up at 5am to inspect the moth trap (to date Anna is the only one who’s shown any inclination to do so!), but that’s what we did, with fingers crossed for some decent moths. Luckily we got a fine assortment to show for our efforts. Anna’s kindly given me permission to share some of her photos, so most of these are hers apart from a couple of dodgy ones of mine for comparison!

Anna teaches digital photography, so I was really lucky that she gave me some top tips to improve my own measly photographic skills. I’d like to think we swapped mothy knowledge with photographic knowledge, but I definitely got the better half of the deal as I learnt far more than she did I’m sure.

First up the amazing Figure of 80 moth, which pretty much does what it says on the tin – it has the number 80 clearly marked on its wings.  I think this was only the second time we’ve had one of these in the garden so it was a real treat.

Another nice find was this Swallow Prominent – not so clear how this one got its name though!

The stars of any mothy shows are usually the hawkmoths, so I was really pleased we got a Poplar one.

When photographing big moths like this, it can be really difficult to get enough depth of field. Clearly not a problem when you know what you’re doing though. The colours and definition all seem so much better than anything I ever manage.

Not content with moths we then headed out to the Wyre Forest in search of butterflies – the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary to be precise. You can read my original post from the day here  https://toolazytoweed.uk/2017/05/31/butterfly-no-41/  Here are two of Anna’s shots of said SPBFs.

The colours that Anna’s managed to capture are brilliant. My efforts from the day look very washed out in comparison:

We were also lucky enough to see the other species – the Pearl Bordered Fritillary. Again here’s one of Anna’s vibrant photos, with my duller effort below it.

It’s amazing seeing Anna’s photos compared to our own. It really does highlight the difference between using your camera properly and being stuck on auto as I am for so much of the time. The vibrancy of Anna’s photos says it all.

You can see more of Anna’s fantastic (and award winning) photography on her website http://www.annahenly.co.uk/ or if you live in Scotland why not sign up for one of her classes on https://www.goingdigital.co.uk/photography-courses-in/scotland and get yourself off “auto” too.

 

 

 

 

New Nest Box

With the Big Garden Birdwatch just around the corner, we’ve been reviewing what we could do to attract more birds into the garden. We already get quite a lot, but the more the merrier!  So I’ve added a few more bird feeders and have been keeping the existing ones well topped up. Spring will hopefully be here before too long, so we’ve also been looking at the nest boxes.

It may just be that we’ve been watching too much Spring/Autumn/Winterwatch, but we (well mainly I) have been longing to get footage from inside a nest box. Last year we were delighted to get shots like this of our blue tits using the old nest box.

Blue Tit on Bird Box

Of course as soon as we have a bit of success with one thing, we want more. Last year we could only film the adults coming and going, so this year we’re hoping to get the action from inside the box. So we’ve gone wild and bought a new bird box complete with fitted camera. We’ve only a limited number of places where we can put a bird box, so decided to take the old one down and replace it with the new one. We may of course regret this if the blue tits reject the new one and we get no nesting activity at all! So first job was to take down the old box. On opening it up we found last year’s nest still pretty much intact inside. It’s the first time I’ve ever really had the chance to look at a nest up close like this. It was very well made and still held together firmly. We were intrigued by the bright green stuff, which looks remarkably like the green fluff you get off a tennis ball – they certainly didn’t get that from our garden. The rest was made up of bits of grass, moss and possibly wool.

blue-tit-nest

There was still one tiny perfect intact egg inside – not even the size of a 5 pence coin.

blue-tit-egg

Slightly less attractive was a couple of tiny skeletons – presumably chicks that didn’t make it to fledging. Blue tits can lay large clutches of eggs, so we just hope that these skeletons and unhatched egg, were just the unlucky ones and most made it to adulthood last year.

blue-tit-skeleton

The new nest box is now up (still complete with wire netting to prevent next door’s cat getting an easy meal) and all ready to go. The new box has Perspex panels each side to increase the amount of light getting in for the camera. The transmitter is the black box to the right.

birdbox-system

The whole thing came pretty much set up and was all very easy to install. So we can in theory now watch all the action – assuming there is any – from the comfort of our living room. This is the current view of the empty box. Hopefully we won’t still be looking at an empty box in a few months time!

tv-view-of-birdbox

We’ve got plenty of blue tits (as well as great, coal and long-tailed tits) using the garden at the moment, so hopefully some of them are from last year’s brood and will remember what a great place our garage wall was to grow up!!

blue-tits

While searching for information on nest boxes, I discovered that the British Trust for Ornithology runs a survey called the Nest Box Challenge. They want people to submit observations on nests/nest boxes in their gardens. Since I can never resist filling in a form and a bit of citizen science, I have registered our new nest box. Fingers crossed it gets occupied and I don’t end up just submitting “empty” as my observation each time – although even that would apparently be useful data. Anyone interested in registering their own nests can find all the info at: https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc

Wildlife Hides – Part 3 The Kestrel

This is the third and final part of the blog about our wonderful day spent at the Wildlife Hides near Droitwich. Our last hide of the day was the Kestrel one. Once again we were a bit worried when the previous 2 groups had all seen kestrels feeding – would they be too full to fly down for us?

Initially all we could see was a very distant kestrel perched on a telegraph pole way across the field.

distant-kestrel

Dead mice were positioned in front of our hide, so we just had to hope she was still hungry. While we waited (with everything crossed) for her to fly down, we could at least enjoy lots of the small birds that were flitting about. The blue tits and great tits posed obligingly on a branch in front of us and a chaffinch was poking about in the mud on the field. A wagtail and an absolutely stunning bullfinch also made appearances, but we didn’t manage to get decent photos of either.

blue-tit

great-tit

chaffinch

While we’d been watching the small birds, the female kestrel had been joined by the male on top of the telegraph pole. After what seemed like an age they eventually both took off and after a bit of hunting about, the female landed on one of the posts in front of us. All 3 of us clicked away frenziedly, to the point that we didn’t even notice the male had landed until it took off again – d’oh! So we only got photos of the female, but she was stunning. I’d never been so close to a kestrel before and hadn’t realised just how beautiful they were.

kestrel

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kestrel-6

kestrel-5

kestrel-4

kestrel-2

kestrel-3

I think we made a bit too much noise and spooked her (and the male) off, but it wasn’t long before she returned. She was clearly wary of us though and decided to sit on the ground (actually on what looks like a great big turnip?) in the middle of the field for a while, probably hoping we’d go away.

kestrel-in-field

But as we stayed put in the hide and kept quiet, she decided to have another go for the mice.

kestrel-9

kestrel-10

kestrel-11

kestrel-12

We could have happily stayed and watched the kestrels for a lot longer, but by now the light was starting to go. Before we packed up for the day though we had one final visitor – an inquisitive squirrel. I know it’s not a red one, but I still can’t resist them.

squirrel

As before while Chris was taking most of the photos, I had a go at videoing. They are such beautiful birds to watch, but you get a real sense of their strength when you see her pulling at the mouse. I wouldn’t want to be at the wrong end of those claws or beak!

All the hides featured in these last 3 blog posts were at Nature Photography’s site near Droitwich, which is only a half hour’s drive from Malvern – brilliant! Other hide rental sites are no doubt available, but we were very happy with our day and couldn’t have asked for better views of the birds. If anyone’s interested in trying something like this for themselves, here’s their website: http://www.naturephotographyhides.co.uk/  They also have hides in Scotland for red squirrel and mountain hares – very tempted for next year!!

I know in an ideal world we would have gone out and found these animals for ourselves, but when you have limited time and resources, sometimes it’s good to take a short cut. The birds were all still wild and there were no guarantees of seeing anything, so it was a big thrill for us just being able to watch them. For beginners like us, it was also a good way of practising taking birdy photos – it’s very hard to practice if there’s nothing there to photograph!

Wildlife Hides – Part 2 The King of Fishers

This is the second part of the blog on our amazing day out on Saturday at the Nature Photography Hides. After the Reflection Pool Hide we moved to the Kingfisher Hide. The group before us reported seeing the kingfisher feeding about half a dozen times, so we were a bit worried that it might be full and not visit while we were there! We were joined in the hide by another photographer (nice to meet you Dave) and the three of us settled down to wait.

First bird to appear was not the hoped for kingfisher, but a rather round looking robin. I took a photo of him anyway, just in case this was all we were going to see!

robin

Turns out I needn’t have worried. An absolutely stunning kingfisher arrived fairly quickly and sat on the bulrush perch. It then moved to one side to sit on the reeds. He (or she) then proceeded to sit in the same spot for about 25 minutes. It was there so long, we actually started to get  a bit tired waiting for it to do something different! (never could have imagined before that I might tire watching a kingfisher, not that I’m complaining) But it gave us plenty of chance to take loads of photos – here’s just a very small percentage of the ones we took at this point.

kingfisher-on-reed-6

kingfisher-on-reed-5

kingfisher-on-reed-4

kingfisher-on-reed-3

After about 25 minutes, it decided a bit of preening was in order.

kingfisher-preening

kingfisher-preening-2

It then regurgitated a pellet of presumably unwanted fish bits. This was something neither Chris nor I had ever heard of and was fascinating to see. It also explained how it had managed to scoff so many fish earlier that morning. It only digests the good bits and spits out the rest! Chris just about managed to catch the fishy pellet being expelled.

kingfisher-regurgitating

Once the fishy waste had been disposed of, it obviously felt it now had room for more fish, so flew back to the bulrush perch.

kingfisher-on-perch-7

kingfisher-on-perch-6

kingfisher-on-perch-3

kingfisher-on-perch-2

The bulrush was positioned over a tub containing small live fish. After a while bobbing up and down to judge distance through the water, we finally got what we’d been waiting for – it dived for a fish.

kingfisher-in-tank-3

Once caught the still wriggling fish was flown back to the perch. The kingfisher then manoeuvred the fish around to get a good grip, before bashing it repeatedly to kill it and then of course eventually swallow it.

kingfisher-with-fish

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kingfisher-with-fish-5

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kingfisher-with-fish-2

It tended to fly away for a few minutes between fish, but came back and repeated the process a couple of times. It didn’t always catch a fish when it dived, but was successful more often than not.

The thing about taking wildlife photos is that it makes you greedy. Before we started, we thought we’d be happy just to see one. Once we’d seen one, we thought we’d be happy to get a few good photos. Then we wanted to see and photograph it catching fish. Then the ultimate goal became to catch it diving down towards the water. I clearly don’t have quick enough reflexes as I didn’t manage it at all. But Chris managed to get this (admittedly after several missed attempts) – quite possibly his best shot of the day.

kingfisher-diving

Since I’m not as good a photographer as Chris, I had a go at videoing the kingfisher instead. I took several short video clips, so here’s just a selection of our beautiful bird in action. (the clicking noises on some of the videos are the sound of camera shutters frantically going in the hide!)

The hide was so close to the kingfisher we got stunning views for the couple of hours we spent there. It was so much better than either of us had dared to hope. Kingfishers must be one of the most sought after subjects for any British wildlife enthusiast and to have spent 2 hours watching one like this was a dream come true.

Wildlife Hides – Part 1 Reflections

We ventured out from the Too Lazy garden yesterday and had an absolutely fabulous day at Nature Photography’s wildlife hides near Droitwich. I hate to admit it, but the big five oh is looming for me, so this was my birthday present – a day freezing my proverbial off while clutching a camera – but I couldn’t have asked for better. We’d gone for one of their “multi hide” days where you get to try out 3 different hides. We took so many photos that I’m going to have to split this blog post into three – one part for each hide we tried.

So first up a section on the Reflection Pool. We did actually start off at the Fieldfare Hide, but the fieldfares weren’t playing ball. There were lots in the field, but none of them came anywhere near the hide. The best we managed were some very distant shots – so far away in fact that we didn’t realise there were redwings amongst the fieldfares until we downloaded the photos at home. So here are some fuzzy photos of a distant fieldfare (top) and redwing (below).

fieldfare

red-wing

The Reflection Pool Hide was right behind the fieldfare one, so we cheated a bit and moved to that instead. The pool is set up so that you’re at water level to get the best reflection shots. In total we took over 1000 photos between us yesterday. A new record even for us. Here are some of my favourites from the pool – I have included quite a few (apologies) but there were just so many to choose from – even after I’d deleted several hundred rejects!

The blue tits and great tits probably frequented the pool the most while we were there. You had to be quick to get a photo though and we ended up with a lot of photos of pool with no bird!

blue-tit

great-tit

great-tit-2

I like this action shot of the great tit – shame the only bit really in focus is the edge of the pool though!

great-tit-3

Between visits to the pool, the birds sat on branches nearby waiting their turn it seemed. This great tit was particularly fluffed up against the cold.

great-tit-4

The robins’ red breasts were of course very photogenic reflected in the water; but even the blackbird looked good with his upside down twin!

robin

blackbird

There was a large group of chaffinches in the hedgerow next to us. Initially they were very timid, but once they’d settled a bit they came down and posed for the cameras. We never seem to get chaffinches in our garden for some reason, so we got a bit carried away (again) with the photos.

mixed

chaffinch

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chaffinch-5

chaffinch-4

The prize of our time at this hide though was undoubtedly this Greater Spotted Woodpecker. Chris spotted him in the trees initially and we watched as he gradually got closer.

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woodpecker

woodpecker-on-feeder

Once he’d reached the bird feeder, we held our breath as he got closer to the pool – everything crossed that he’d land there. And he did! An absolutely gorgeous bird looking back at himself.

woodpecker-reflection

woodpecker-reflection-3

woodpecker-reflection-2

You can’t really go wrong with the reflection pool. Whilst not necessarily always technically brilliant (often far from it), all the photos here had some appeal. I even love the photos that weren’t really in focus, like this one of a blue tit taking off. The colours and the reflection make up for the lack of everything else (like focus) you’d normally look for in a photo!

blue-tit-2

While we were in the hide we could hear geese flying overhead, so Chris stuck his head out to try and get some photos. Not easy against the sky to get the exposure right – but at least you can see they are geese!

goose

geese

So that was the first part of our day in the wildlife hides. We were already really chuffed with it all and it was only 11:30am at this point!

Parts 2 and 3 to follow as soon as I’ve waded through the next set of photos. We’d thought things were going well already, but then we went to the Kingfisher Hide…..

 

Miniature Marvels

Over the last few years, I’ve become fascinated (some may say slightly obsessed!) with the diversity of moths we get in our very ordinary garden. For the first few years of moth trapping I concentrated on the macro moths, which as their name suggests, tend to be the larger species. As a beginner, the macro moths were a) easier to identify as they were bigger and b) easier to photograph – also because they were bigger. But this year I started to realise that I was missing out on an awful lot of moths. There are about 800 species of macro moths and probably three times as many micro moths in the UK alone.

So I’ve started trying to identify the micro moths too. At first this felt like an impossible task as many of them are really just so damn small! But once I got into them, I started to appreciate their microscopic beauty. I still find most of them to be incredibly difficult to identify though and have relied heavily on iSpot and experts on Twitter and Facebook to help me. This year to date I’ve recorded 208 species of moth in the garden of which 58 have been micros. The real number of micros present in the garden is probably much higher, but my poor ID and photographic skills have limited the results so far.

I thought it was about time I did a blog post in praise of the miniature marvels that are the micro moths. So here’s a selection of my favourites – ones that I find particularly interesting or beautiful or significant in some other way.

So first up a micro that is probably the most abundant one in our garden, thanks to the presence of our apple tree – the Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana). This is actually an Australian species that was accidentally introduced to the UK and can be a pest in orchards. On one night alone in August I got 78 of these in the moth trap!

Next up another orchard pest species – the Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella). Its caterpillars feed on the apples and can ruin crops. It is such a problem that you can buy codling moth traps which use pheromones to lure the moths to their doom. As our apple tree produces way more fruit than we can eat anyway, we’re not too bothered by the presence of this moth. I’ve included it here, not because of its pest status, but because it is actually quite an attractive moth, with its coppery rear end!

codling-moth

While I’m on pest species, this next one is a Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner (Cameraria ohridella). The caterpillars do just what it says on the tin – they mine into the leaves of Horse Chestnut trees. The leaf mines themselves are not fatal to the trees, but they could allow diseases in which would have a greater impact. We don’t have any horse chestnut trees in the garden, nor any close by that I’m aware of; which may be why I only caught one of these this summer. They may not be a welcome addition to the UK fauna, but they are beautiful moths!

horse-chestnut-leaf-miner

Moving away from pests, the next species is one of a strikingly unusual group of moths – the Plume moths. This one is a Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthodactyla). They have modified wings that, when not in use, are folded away into the crossbars of these T shaped moths. They seem to be quite docile moths – this one was happy to sit on my hand to be photographed.

beautiful-plume

The Twenty-Plume Moth (Alucita hexadactyla) has similar feathery plumes for wings. Despite its name, it actually has 24 plumes – each of the 4 wing consisting of 6 plumes. They are strongly attracted to lights and we often find these indoors or on the outside of our glass door if we leave the light on.

Twenty plume moth

The next micro may not look very interesting, but it is a Scarce Cosmet (Mompha jurassicella). I got awfully excited about this one earlier in the year, when someone identified it for me and it turned out it was the first record for Malvern. It’s only a few millimetres long meaning it is easily overlooked, so I suspect lots of gardens around here have it too – but not all our neighbours go grovelling about in the grass looking for tiny invertebrates!

scarce-cosmet

The next one I’ve included is a day-flying micro – a Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata). This cheery looking little moth seems to like all our herbs, not just the mint – it is particularly fond of the oregano and in the summer we have lots of them fluttering around the herb bed.

mint-moth

The Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella) is another migrant moth that each summer gets blown over from Europe. This year there were reports in the press of “plagues” of these little moths that were potentially going to “destroy our crops”! As far as I know nothing of the sort happened, but I did get quite a few in the moth trap.

Diamond Back moth

This next moth didn’t look that interesting when I first caught it, it was only when I looked at the photo close up that I could see just how beautifully it was coloured. That’s the problem with such small moths – the naked eye just can’t pick up the detail! It is a Cherry-Bark Moth (Enarmonia formosana).

cherry-bark-moth

The Chequered Fruit-Tree Tortrix (Pandemis corylana) I like for its mosaic crazy paving patterning. It’s also got quite a distinctive shape – broad and flat, unlike most of the other moths here.

chequered-fruit-tree-tortrix

This is one of the Orchard Ermine group (Yponomeuta sp.) There are several almost identical species of these gorgeous little white moths and they can only be reliably identified if you rear them from caterpillars -which of course I’ve not done!

ermine

This little beauty is one of the Caloptilia moths. They are very hard to identify so not sure which of several species it is. But I loved the brassy gold colouration and the way it seems to be standing on tiptoe on its front legs. This was another species whose beauty was only revealed with the camera zoomed right in.

caloptilia

The final micro of this selection is one that is not particularly attractive or distinctive, doesn’t have an interesting life history or pest status, but is stuck with one of the worst common names – the Dingy Dowd (Blastobasis adustella). I think it must be my desire to support the under-dog that makes me root for the poor Dingy Dowd!

dingy-dowd

 

Siskin Surprise

The wildlife interest in our garden seems to be swinging at the moment to and fro between the moth traps and the trail cam. Last weekend the trail cam definitely came out on top though, when it threw up a complete surprise in the garden. I guess many of us put out these cameras with the vague hope that they will reveal something unexpected and this weekend ours did. It may not have captured anything super rare, but it did film a Siskin – a bird which we didn’t even know we had in the garden. Of course it would have been nice to see the Siskin in the flesh rather than just on film, but at least we know now to look out for it!

We’d hung this bird table out a week or so ago and were initially a bit annoyed that its design meant it immediately swivelled, tipping all the seeds into one corner.  But this jaunty angle actually appears to be working to our advantage, as the slope (and general instability) seems to be deterring the pigeons and larger birds and allowing the smaller ones to get a look in.

The Siskin is an attractive bird, so I tried to get some correspondingly attractive still images from the film. Unfortunately it was so intent on scoffing the sunflower seeds, that it was difficult to get an image without food hanging from its mouth, so these were the best I could do.

Siskin 1

Siskin 2

The sloping feeder attracted several other species that afternoon, although none stayed as long, or were quite so fond of their food, as the Siskin – a bird after my own heart!

Great Tit

Robin 3

 

Birds in Focus

At last I’m finally getting some photos that are not only in focus (just about), but have real live animals in them – a dream come true after a couple of weeks struggling with the new trail cam!

Blue Tit trail cam photoI still wouldn’t claim to have mastered it, but the learning curve is definitely on the up. My new 250mm close up lens has certainly helped get (not surprisingly) closer images. The downside of using this lens is that your field of view shrinks dramatically, so you’ve got to be sure you’re pointing somewhere where there’s going to be some action. For some reason I seem to nearly always position the camera slightly too low, so I’ve got lots of clips now of bird feet, while their heads tuck into the bird food out of sight of the lens! I’ve also got a lot of clips of branches shaking, as something lands just above the field of view – I swear sometimes the birds are just sitting there, rattling the twigs to torment me. This underestimation of the required lens height may have something to do with my own height (or lack of), but I can hopefully train myself out of this one.

I’ve been much more impressed with the quality of the video clips than the still photos. But what I have found is that I can often get pretty good snapshots from the videos and turn them into photos. The images of the blue tit above and long-tail tit below were both taken this way.

Long tail tit 250mm lens

 

I tried the new lens out in the garage on the mice and was delighted when it captured two of them for the first time.

Two mice trail cam imageAt least I think I’m delighted, although maybe I won’t be so keen when 2 mice become 4 become 8 etc. They are getting through a lot of bird food as it is. Putting out the trail cam these last few weeks has incurred incidental expenses that I hadn’t anticipated when I first got it. In order to maximise photo ops in the garden, I’ve increased the numbers of bird feeders, so have of course needed more bird food too. There’s also been the additional lens, plus a new ground spike for the trail cam that I hope to try out at the weekend, to get photos of some of the ground feeding birds.

I’ve also been forced for the first time in ages to do a bit of judicious pruning round the garden to get clear shots of the feeders – that tree has just too many twigs growing specifically it seems with the intent of ruining my photos! I’ve been down on my knees trimming bits of grass out of the way of that elusive perfect shot and moving stones and other debris that spoiled the look. At this rate I may even find myself weeding the garden!

But I’m sure it will all be worth it come the spring. We’re really hoping that the blue tits will nest in the bird box again this year – in which case I will be poised ready with my new trail cam skills to capture the moment. Not sure when blue tits start nesting, but spring feels like it’s on its way. Despite a very cold night last night (-4.2°C according to my latest toy – a max/min thermometer for the Garden Moth Scheme), I heard the first froggy croak in the garden this afternoon and the daffodils are almost out, so hopefully the blue tits will feel it too.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of short films of the ever-adorable Long-tailed Tits in the garden today. First film is taken with the 460mm lens and second with the 250mm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First frog