Hen Harriers – revisited

This will be the first of two winter posts. This first one will cover my latest Hen Harrier adventures whereas the second post will show some other more common birds in a winter setting. For the first time in many years I haven’t had the feeling of spending the winter in hibernation. I actually went out into the blistering cold and got great results! I focussed all my efforts on capturing birds in the snow that I didn’t have any time to go out and shoot some landscape shots. Yes, the winter of 2012/2013 was great but I’m glad that it’s over and I’m ready for Spring now. I already have a few small colorful projects in mind but more on that in a few weeks. I will also be buying a new camera as I’ve set April 1st as a deadline to buy one. I’m afraid Nikon won’t release a D400 any time soon so I’ll be buying a D800 and 24-70mm lens (full frame instead of APS-C (crop)). I will still be using my D300 for when I need the additional reach and speed but the D800 will be great for more controllable projects such as macro, light rays, and king fishers. I’m a bit worried though about storage space on my computer so I’m going to have to increase that as well. Luckily my 2008 Mac Pro seems to handle large D800 RAW files very well. Anyways.. enough blabla and time for the pictures:

Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier

I do wonder what adventures 2013 will bring. Where do the kingfishers decide to nest? Will we see any new rare birds? How about the beaver? And will I see Roe Deer fawns again? I can’t wait!

Until next time!

Advertisements

4 in 1, and where did my mojo go?

Four weeks crammed into one blog post. So it’ll be a long one. I basically had the larger part of 4 weeks to spend on nature photography since this was, or as I’m writing this, still is my spring/summer holiday. I wanted to make the most of it so I threw myself out into the field every day looking for stuff to photograph. The weather was not really super, but manageable. I needed clear skies in the morning and clear skies in the evening. Once these requirements have been met, all you need to do is look for the correct location. So, the first three weeks all went pretty bad. No beaver, no kingfisher, no bee eaters, no buzzards, no wild boar or roe deer. The Buzzards (buizerd) were my largest project. I knew a nice location where these birds of prey have a nest each year and thought I should give them a hand in raising their young by laying out some bait (roadkill) for them. In the meantime, I’d be there waiting in my tent with my camera. I picked the perfect spots with the rising sun behind me so if it would work, I could capture these amazing birds in the warm morning light. Unfortunately these birds are quite watchful which meant that I had to go into my tent in the middle of the night when it was still dark! This meant getting up at 4 am in the morning, cramming food down my throat, cycling 10 minutes to the location, arriving without lights, without making a sound, putting the bait on the ground in the dark, securing it with hooks so they don’t fly off with it, and try not to fall asleep while waiting. Thus, there I was at 4.30 in the morning awaiting an attack on my bait. No such luck :(. After 3 long mornings I gave up. The third time they clearly saw the bait, circled 2m over it, and flew off again. Now, 3 days later, the bait is still there, untouched. I could have sat there for over 3 days and nothing would have happened. Lesson learned I’d say. I guess this only works well in winter time when there is snow and it is much more difficult for them to find prey. After 2 weeks of bad luck I started to doubt myself, and realized that I might had lost my ‘photography mojo’ (watch an Austin Powers movie in case you don’t understand the word ‘mojo’, if you do understand it, watch them anyways as they are kind of fun). So this is when I resorted back to macro photography in an effort to find my mojo again as this is the more easier part of nature photography. Your subjects don’t run away and you don’t have to get up while its dark outside. A good place to start to get my mojo back again. The results can be found directly below. I’m quite happy with the dragonfly shots:

Tulips

Tulips

After some time, I realized that most of the time you don’t have to go look for photo opportunities but they’ll find you eventually. Just by going for a bike ride or taking a stroll along the riverside. That’s when I saw this cutie:
roe deer fawn
It must have been a few days old! I hit the brakes (I was cycling), immediately started unpacking my lens + camera and was able to take just a few shots before it ran of. Good to see that their fear of humans is a genetic thing.

Next day, I got a call from my king fisher ‘connection’ that he had found a nesting site which I could use to finally take some king fisher shots. And so I did:
king fisher
I’ll go back there in my last holiday days (this actually means crossing a fast flowing river in wading boots with 15kg of (rather expensive) camera gear on your back. One slip and things get pricey ;-).

The next shots were taken somewhere in the first 3 weeks or so. I had hoped for more and better but you can’t have it all, right?! We’ll see what the rest of summer will bring us. At least it seems that I have found my mojo again (or still had it all this time).
KungFu Goose
rays of light
phaesant on the move
I’ll end this post with a small bang. Our neighbors have a Little Owl (Steenuil) nesting box in their orchard and each year the young owls are ringed for study purposes (see how many there are and where they go after they leave their parents territory). Now, I usually don’t post photo’s of captive birds but as these are actual wild ones and it’s so darn cute I’ll show it anyway. Hope to get some really ‘wild’ shots of these ladies later this summer. Just look at the newborn! Melts your heart right?
Little Owl / Steenuil

Until next time!

So it begins…

The title points to the start of a new season. A season full of color, sweet scents and (hopefully) good weather. We recently had some very nice and warm spring weather causing all sorts of plants to pop their heads out of the soil and start showing off their gorgeous vivid colors. An excellent time to go out and about with my camera. The following shots have been taken in the past two weeks and I must say I’m quite satisfied with them. I’ve had to endure mud on my clothes, face, and camera, but somehow I also managed to overlook a nice pile of sheep shit when taking photos of little lambs. Luckily only my clothes were harmed in that operation.

Anyways.. here we go:
blossom

Something new, something blue:
blue bokeh

The culprit of my ‘smelly’ clothes:
lamb

On another note: Unfortunately today I had to burry a Tawny Owl (bosuil in Dutch) that had died in my neighbors barn. He called me today that he had found a dead owl in his barn and if I was interested in taking some shots of it and burry it. Very unfortunate death since these birds are absolutely stunning (and very soft/cuddly!) but just as life, death is also a part of nature. Luckily my Little Owls (in Dutch Steenuil) seem to be ok and are hopefully able to give birth to some little fur balls later in June.

Until next time!

The diary of a nature photographer (part II of II)

Last Wednesday I was sitting behind my desk at work when I heard the weather forecast on the radio. After a long spell of dark and cloudy weather we were finally going to get some clear skies and warm Spring days. I decided to take the next two days off from work and spent it in the great outdoors with my camera. The report of day 1 can be found in my previous post.

Day 2

Just as day 1, day 2 started at 5.45am but this time with John Mayer and his Heartbreak Warfare. A nice way to start off the day. I decided to try my luck again at the forest of day 1. I set off on my bike and arrived close to 7am, made my way into the forest, nervously looking out for wild boar and put up my hide. The story of day 2 is going to be a little bit shorter than of day 1 because basically nothing happened the entire morning. No deer or wild boar today. Unfortunately this is an integral part of nature photography. Patience and perseverance… (I was able to level up some Angry Birds levels though :p ).

Back home again. I was planning to have another go at the snowdrops when I suddenly saw a frog in my pond. It had already laid eggs in the water and I was able to get close enough for some nice portrait shots.

frog
(D300, Sigma 150mm F2.8, F5.6, ISO 200, 1/125sec)

While I was taking photographs of the frog I suddenly heard the distinctive sound of 2 Tong-tailed Tits (I’m not kidding, they’re really called Tits…). I immediately remembered the pair of Tits that made a nest in my garden last year. These little fur balls with long tails are really cute so I decided to run after them to see where they might be building their love shack. Sure enough, they were at it again this year. The female, or at least I assumed it was the female for obvious reasons, selected a nice yew bush (taxus) next to the driveway.

long tailed tit
(D300, 500mm F4 VR, ISO 250, 1/1000sec, F4, handhold / had to be fast hence the weird settings).
I decided to help them out a bit by putting some stylish, soft nest building stuff next to the building site.

The bird below is a Blue Tit (family of the other Tit):
blue tit
(D300, 500mm F4 VR, ISO 250, F5.6, 1/250sec, tripod)

I was also (fairly) successful with the snowdrops this time. I used the flash to fill in the background a bit. If I hadn’t used the flash, the background would have been much darker and not as appealing.
snow drop
(D300, Sigma 150mm f2.8, F3, ISO 250, 1/1000sec)

That is it for day 2. The rest of the day was spend enjoying the nice sunny weather and chilling a bit.

Day 3
Started at 9.30am (… I had to recover from days 1 and 2 :p). It was going to be a cloudy day so there wasn’t much to do photography wise (also I thought..). One of the important aspects of nature photography that often goes overlooked are being outside and scouting the territory for nice scenery or wild life. In nature photography you often need to be at the right place at the right time, hence the scouting for possibilities. Anyways.. I was going out for a walk (I always take my camera with me, you never know..) when I heard something in an old corn field. I looked over to find a gorgeous male pheasant having lunch on the left over corn. Something was off since I was able to come quite close without the pheasant screaming and flying off in the opposite direction. I put one and two together and concluded that this had to be a fairly tame pheasant that was bred and set free by local hunters. That would also explain the lack of pheasants during the winter when the hunters catch the wild ones, use them for breeding, bring up the chicks and set them free again to murder them later on in the year (preferably Christmas, a joyful season for all, except if you’re a pheasant). This breeding is highly illegal but those scumbags don’t give a sh*t since there is no one there to check that hunters follow the rules. Anyways.. back to my specific pheasant:

pheasant
(D300, 500mm F4 VR, ISO 400, 1/60sec, F6.3, handholding)

Day 4:
The last day was spent selecting and processing the best shots, writing this story, updating my blog and website, and cleaning up the camera gear.

So… long story… but fun to write. Hope you found it interesting to read.

Until next time!

The diary of a nature photographer (part I of II)

Last Wednesday I was sitting behind my desk at work when I heard the weather forecast on the radio. After a long spell of dark and cloudy weather we were finally going to get some clear skies and warm Spring days. I decided to take the next two days off from work and spent it in the great outdoors with my camera. Below is my report from day 1. Day 2 will follow tomorrow. Days 3 and 4 (the weekend) were going to be cloudy and would therefor be spent on selecting and processing over 500 photo’s.

Day 1

My day started at 5.45am when I was wakened by the radio alarm, with Sectrets, by One Republic. I decided to get out of bed at 6.15am (I’m not a morning person, one of my biggest achievements of that day was actually getting up that early..). So, I put on 3 layers of cold clothes, which I kept outside overnight to loose their freshly washed scent, and started to fix breakfast (toast, fruit drink). I watched some cartoons on tv while eating and set off to a forest nearby. It was a 20-minute bike ride (mostly uphill) with 20kg’s of camera gear on my back and a portable hide hanging from my neck. Oh, and did I mention it was freezing? Pretty darn cold if only half an hour ago, you were lying underneath warm, cuddly bed sheets. Anyhow, there was a dense layer of fog hanging over the meadows and the birds were already singing their hearts out. I came close to my final destination, which was a big open forest with old trees and a great diversity of wild life. It was my intent to try and find that wild life before it would find me (and would run off in the opposite direction). Unfortunately I have to walk for about 5 minutes through the forest to get to the spot where I usually set up my hide. These 5 minutes are always quit nerve-racking, as I have to be sneaky and extremely watchful at the same time. The forest is inhabited by wild boar and around this time the females are giving birth to these cute little rascals. If I would, lets say, walk into a group of resting wild boar and come between the those little rascals and their mommies, these mommies would likely attack me. As I’m not a very big guy and those mommies outweigh me by a lot, it could get more interesting than I would have initially hoped for, especially with the before mentioned weight on my back and around my neck. So, after the 5 minute walk I ended up at my spot and set up my tent. I was greeted by an orchestra of singing birds, which were getting themselves ready for Spring. It was 6.45am by now and I was sweating profusely from carrying all that stuff around, making my scentless approach pretty useless. Anyhow, I installed my gear, got comfortable (for as far that’s possible in a tiny hide) and peeked through the openings in the tent to see if there was something worth taking pictures off. Nothing there yet, no deer, no wild boar, no squirrels. I decided to check my e-mails on my phone and have another go at Angry Birds level 2-15. Every now and then I took another peek through the hide openings to see what was happening in the world outside my tent. After looking around to the left and right, I suddenly heard the sound of cracking leaves and hoped it was a deer or wild boar. After a good look I saw two squirrels going up a tree and racing each other up and down. The one in the lead must have been the female since, also in the animal kingdom, the male has to race after the female to get some….. uh…. romance. Love was clearly in the air as the birds were doing the same thing with the males trying to impress the females with their loud singing. All these sights and noises made me realize that I too was looking forward to the upcoming Spring season. I always feel more alive during Spring and Summer, more energetic and positive. Anyways, so after the squirrels left my view, I suddenly saw a deer in the distance, walking closer and closer towards my hide, every now and then sniffing and licking at stuff. I was able to take some good pictures, even though the light was bad and I had to increase the ISO to get a reasonable shutter speed. My heart was pumping as the deer came closer and closer and I was wondering how close it would come before it started to notice my smell or the sound of the camera shutter.

Roe Deer

Unfortunately it started to walk a bit away from me and laid itself down behind some branches, 50 meters from my hide. I was still able to see her (the deer was female) and she kept moving her ears around, like little radars that continuously scanned the area around her for suspicious noises. After a while I saw here eyelids falling shut and guess she was ready for a nap. At the same time the sun rose above the pine trees, thereby lighting the fog that was slowly moving through the forest. The sunrays shining through were amazing! It really felt like I was in a fairytale. The deer was clearly fighting the sleep as the eyelids kept falling shut and slowly opened up again.

Roe Deer

After an hour or so, the deer stood up and walked away into the bushes. I could have sworn she yawned a bit before getting up though.
In the next 2 hours nothing interesting happened. Unfortunately, no wild boar today so I headed home, had lunch, and inspected the garden for some Spring flowers (crocus and snowdrops). I took some nice shots of the crocus flowers (most of which had already lost their full glory) but found the snowdrops to be a somewhat more difficult subject so I left them for day 2.

crocus macro

Day 1 ended with listening to Little Owls singing to each other under the night sky.

Until next time (so tomorrow with day 2)!

Colors of Summer

I made it back alive and well from my trip to India. It certainly is a special country with special people… The city of Hyderabad is one big dump but the traffic is kind of ‘fun’ though. They just go left to right, to left, honking the horn every 10 seconds or so. When its dark you can really see the amount of pollution in the streets when all the exhaust fumes are lit up by the car lights. It is definitely not healthy to spend a lot of time in that traffic. Crossing the road is exciting though :p. Did it twice and don’t like to do it a third time. Cows, dogs and pigs live next to the road and so do the people. Tents made up of plastic and twigs next to the roads make for an impressive, though sad, scenery. Little boys and girls coming to beg to you for money and food at the local markets..

Anyways, enough on India (I didn’t take any camera with me so no photographs to share with you). So now I am back in the good old Netherlands, where the food doesn’t burn holes in your mouth (I hate spicy food, and that’s about all they had in India), I finally have 3 weeks off from work and now the weather s*cks big time. Rainy, windy, cloudy. I guess I will go to work again and have no Summer holidays this year. It’s a shame to spend my holidays inside watching the Tour de France..

So, now for the photo’s! My favorite subjects for the Summer are Day Lilies. They have such great colors and allow me to take the best out of my Sigma 150mm macro lens. Amazing colors and bokeh:

day lilly

Another one that I really like is this lady bug. I should have chosen a larger depth of field but then I might have had a too slow shutter speed.

lady bug

Anyways, that’s it for today. Hopefully the weather clears up a bit but I fear it will not so I will probably go back to work once again.

Until next time!

Meet Beautiful Gorgeous!

One of my photography dreams has always been photographing a little owl (steenuil in Dutch). Well, this week I was granted a 10 second dream when one landed on my branch. I of course knew that they were present in the area so I had started to catch mice, and even a mole, to help with the feeding. Every evening I placed a freshly caught mouse on my branch thereby hoping that the owls would start to use it as their regular feeding place. Sure enough, all the mice were gone the next day. Now I still didn’t know if the owls got them or maybe a Crow or Magpie. So on a sunny evening I sat underneath my camouflage net when, very silently, this little guy flew in and sat on my branch. Light conditions were terrible unfortunately but 1/20s still works decently I’d say.. After 5 shots, he didn’t trust it anymore and flew off. The mouse was gone the next day though :p.

little owl

little owl

Another favorite subject is the daylily. Gorgeous flower:
flower

Until next time!