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BP's Photographia

Incandescently Illuminating
In Memoriam

To Another Photographer

Father to None, Uncle to All


With a new year I've decided to learn a new skill: and after one too many failed attempts at taking photos of herons with a bad camera phone, I decided it was going to be photography. I've never really taken an interest in it before, so it'll be very much new ground for me. At the moment I'm just taking photos with automatic settings to see what the camera can do, before I start fiddling around with anything else.

Today, a bleak and dreichy January day, been my first real chance to take it out. Images spoilered for size - they're bigger than I expected.

Looking North along the Western edge of the nature reserve. The path is muddy as hell after half a Winter's worth of rain. Those are tall trees in the middle-distance are Lombardy poplars (Populus nigra)

Foots Hole, in the nature reserve again. Looks charming, doesn't it?

Ducks, obligingly staying still while I test the auto-focus on them. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) for the most part, with a couple of black coots (Fulica atra) hanging around.
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I wasn't planning on doing anything today, but the weather changed so I decided to go out for an hour or so. A couple of unexpected lessons learned. First is that if I'm to be taking photos, my glasses also need to be scrupulously clear of dust as well, otherwise light scattering off it will blind me anyway. Second is that being able to use the touchscreen to change focus isn't always a good thing if I keep accidentally touching the screen with my nose.

I'm almost certain that blackbird (Turdus merula) was watching me specifically. That was taken from a distance of about thirty feet. I didn't dare try getting closer since he had plainly seen me, and there was a blackberry thicket in the way anyway. The auto-focus wanted to keep focusing on the hawthorn branches.

In the light those brambles look considerably more cheerful than they really ought to.

I could hardly see the little devil, thanks to the low Winter sun being right in my face. He was more bothered about winkling something out of the ivy than whatever I was doing.

This one's probably my favourite shot, looking South towards the glass cone.
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After some thought, I've decided to dedicate this thread to my late uncle - a professional photographer who started his career back when everyone was still using film. Never forgotten.

Been practising now and again over the past few weeks. I've decided to select just three shots today. First is one I took on Monday, on the way back from the post office:

Just some really quick playing around while I had a spare moment. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) have a habit of wilting before you know it, so I decided to take a photo sooner rather than later.

Second one comes from this afternoon. I saw this heron - the heron as I tend to think of it - on the way home from work, so I grabbed my camera and hurried back out. I see this fellow fairly regularly, but you can never be quite sure when you'll see him. I made an attempt at approaching from another angle to get closer, but I didn't stay low enough and he evidently decided I must be a tiger.

Back to another still life, so to speak. I call this one 'A Dream of Spring', or I would do if I felt it was artistic enough to deserve the name. That's the theme I had in mind in any case:

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A quick walk down to the village for an ephemeral photo opportunity - crocuses, like snowdrops, don't last long. Those crocuses growing in public parks and the like last even less, given the footfall of dogs, children, and teenagers.

Played around a little with camera angles to see what would happen. I think crocuses (Crocus tommansinianus) facilitate this, with those pale lilac petals and gold stamens. I've selected two from the reel, so to speak, though I did take many more.

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Storm Dennis is passing over, leaving high winds behind, but a largely clear day, so I went out with the camera again. The sun's still quite low in the East at this time of year, so some shots were difficult to get. The plan was to photograph the emerging hawthorn blossom (Crataegus monogyna). As it turns out I was a little early for that, and nature makes mock of plans anyway. These are much smaller photos too - I forgot to switch the settings back after doing some eBay photography. First up, the one worthwhile shot of the blossom I did get:

You can't really see much of the after-effects of the storm here. Most of the ashes (Fraxinus excelsior) seem to have got on ok in spite of their height. Here you can see something of the light - bear in mind this was an hour or so after noon:

Robins (Erithacus rubecula) are nothing new here, but this fellow seemed to be especially brave. He might have thought I was going fishing - the fisherman tell me robins have a habit of stealing bait from tackle boxes:

As is often the way, this encounter was completely accidental. Thrushes tend to be nervy and secretive. I haven't seen any since the tail end of Summer - indeed, I would have thought this one was a female blackbird (Turdus merula) were it not for the hopping rather than running movement:

Later on, I spotted another. Possibly even the same one, there's no way I could tell:

Looking at these images at leisure, I think I was wrong all this time about the thrushes in this area. I had thought they were song thrushes (T. philomelos), but these look like the paler mistle thrushes (T. viscivorus).
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Headed out with the intention of going somewhere new along the extension canal. The afternoon started dull grey, and the canal doesn't offer much. I think the factories and assorted industry next to it doesn't encourage the wildlife. It's a bit open compared to the Southern arm, with fewer trees, I think. When it started to rain I decided to give up. Birds don't like being out in the rain any more than I do. By the time I got back to the reserve the sun had fully come out, high winds having driven off the cloud, so I decided to walk a quick circuit to see what I could find.

This one's partly me playing with the brightness setting to see what would happen. This particular scenelet struck me as bleak when I noticed it on the way home from work a couple of weeks ago:

Another male robin (E. rubecula). They're proving useful for practice, being largely happy to sit in the open. This time I tried using a shorter exposure while it was moving, to practice for those less obliging birds. I'm not certain he was really moving enough to see any results:

Same fellow decided to swap to a hawthorn bush, for some reason. Low afternoon sun annihilated the colours, but I thought it looked interesting enough to snap a photo anyway:

Well, hullo again, little mistle thrush (T. viscivorus). Sun after rain can be a great time to see birds (Admittedly you get better results at the height of Spring). Thrushes, including blackbirds (T. merula) love to poke around for worms at this time:

I ought to have taken video of this one hauling a worm out, it was quite comical:

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Another impromptu walk today. I had the intention of capturing a great tit (Parus major). and patience and a good ear I did manage to spot one. The little bastards love to find the highest perch they can and sing so loudly it's hard to see where they're singing from. I couldn't seem to get the camera to ignore the intervening twigs and focus on the bird. Oh well. Patience did yield a photo of a house sparrow (Passer domesticus):

Sparrows really have become rare. Time was I wouldn't even glance at a flock of less than ten. Now five together is worth a look. They're far more cautious than they ever used to be, too.

The Dream of Spring project continues. I've got nothing clever to say about these:

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Some years Spring just appears in the space of a day or two. This year, having a camera on hand gives more of an incentive to seize the moment, carpe the diem, as it happens. My plan, such as it was, was to patrol the usual paths looking for the new growth, but afterwards I decided to head down into the deepwoods looking for windflower (Anemone nemorosa). Last year's bracken has smothered the clearing where they usually grow, so the result of that search is some impromptu photos of the woods:

Those woods are eclectic, to say the least. In the valley itself there's an increasing number of willows (Salix species), but on the higher ground, as seen in the second photo, there are a lot of oaks (Quercus species). The sides of the valley aren't natural, but the contours of long-forgotten industrial activity.

The bumblebees are starting to emerge and, well, bumble around the leaf litter looking for nest holes. Identification is a tricky task. I think this is a queen Bombus terrestris, but I could well be wrong. Bumblebees may well be good practice for photographing unpredictable subjects:

The real stars of the show are the lesser celandines (Ficaria verna). Selecting a few photos is a trial in itself, so here's three ways I tried to capture them:

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Trying to burn off some restless energy with an impromptu walk. Nothing spectacular about this one - the great tit (Parus major) continues to elude me. The blackbirds were a little less twitchy today, so I managed to get a shot of both a male and female:

A damp day seems to have encouraged the starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) down to the verges. In spite of this getting a clear shot of one wasn't easy. Best I could do was this fellow, not quite silhouetted for once:

I don't particularly like grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), and I suspect this one knew it:

Headed a bit further north in the reserve than I usually do, which turned up an unusual sight - a Great Crested Grebe:

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A couple of days of walking in what I like to think of as the dingle - though whether that valley is at all related to the Dingle in place names, I don't know. Partly I was getting reacquainted with the reserve, partly I was seeking out the new Spring growth. And so to that end, some daffodils:

I won't even begin to try to identify them - they're a Narcissus species, but beyond that the variety is so dizzyingly vast I haven't got a clue. By chance, I did stumble upon a small patch of windflower (Anemone nemorosa):

A couple of other photos I took for the sake of interest. First, seeing what would happen if I tried to photograph the play of the light on the brickwork beneath the bridge:

And a culvert in the dingle, looking oddly beautiful in the Spring sun:

The first buzzard (Buteo buteo) of the year - or more accurately, the first buzzard I've seen. I almost wondered whether I'd misidentified it, given how pale the belly plumage is:

And so, at last, to a real surprise. This is a reason, if any were needed, to walk quietly and keep your ears open, because without that I would never have heard the tap-tapping of this Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major) trying to chisel something out of a tree:

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Some more Spring photos from the reserve - rather hindered today by everybody and their dog out walking on even the obscure paths. Working around the sun proved irritating, given that it's been shining from a completely clear sky these past two days. I took a variety of photos, but for this post I'm going to focus on the newly-flying butterflies:

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The experimentation continues - this time with trying out techniques for super close-up detail. I could have turned my attention to lesser celandine (Ficaria verna). or wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), but truth be told, I'm a little tired of them, though I'm sure I'll feel otherwise once their short weeks of flowering are over. As luck, or rather, observation, would have it, I found some other Spring flowers to examine. Wood violets (Viola riviniana)* don't much like the usually soggy nature reserve soil, but I found a few near the hawthorn:

But the real challenge was the Ivy-leaved Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia lucorum). For reference, those flowers are about 5mm across, if that. This close up, keeping the camera steady is really hard. I couldn't do it at all with the automatic settings - it needed the macro mode and patience.

* They could be Sweet violets (Viola ordorata) - I didn't think to try smelling them.