Hi everybody. I have now decided to integrate my blogger account with my new website.
Please click the link below to visit the new site.

GJGPhotography.co.uk

Sunday, 13 November 2011

My blog has moved - www.gjgphotography.co.uk

Hi everyone - just a quickie to let you know, if you didn't already, that I've moved my blog to my website.

All of my posts and history has been transferred and whilst this site will remain here until Google decide to close it, I won't be posting here anymore.

If you have a moment, please pop over to www.gjgphotography.co.uk and leave a comment to let me know what you think.

The site has taken a while to complete, but it's something I'd been meaning to do for an age and I'm now very happy with it.

Thanks for following me so far, and I hope you can find to time to follow me at my new location !

Many thanks
Graham Goddard ARPS
November 2011

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Something I never thought I'd do.......

Yesterday I decided to try and photograph something that I never really fancied doing before - the Autumn Deer Rut.

Anyone who has watched Autumn Watch for any period of time will have seen countless hours of coverage of Stags on the island of Rum, battling for control of the hinds - fascinating viewing, but not as fascinating after 4 straight years on the trot.

The forums are awash with images of deer at the moment, and that is what has put me off - until now.

Some of the images being produced are, I have to admit, super.

So, with that goal in mind I watched the weather all week and with Friday off of work, I got up at 4.30 and drove to Bradgate.

Now, that's a 3 hour drive for me, and looking out of the window as I type this, I wish I'd gone today. The reason - the light. Each morning has been spectacular this week - cold, crisp and we even had our first frost on Thursday.

Would that repeat itself on Friday for me - of course not.......

I have to say though, my first experience of the rut, at close quarters was memorable.
I arrived slightly late (after attending to and reporting to the police the aftermath of a road accident - another story), and made my way into the park.
Bradgate is huge, but I followed the roars from the Stags.

As I've said above, the light was poor - no golden glow for me I'm afraid, but watching this pair of Fallow Deer battling away more than made up for it.

Mid battle

They fought for a good 10 minutes, butting, charging and looking for weaknesses in each others defences until finally, one broke away and ran for the shelter of the stream.

He stood and allowed me to approach quite closely and take this shot as he got his breath and took a drink.

Knackered and in need of drink !

I then took a walk  to another section of the park where a mature Red had his hareem under close control. He's no bellowing here, just yawning.....



Red Deer yawning







Caring for one of his hinds

He then made his way over to one of the hinds to see if she was ready for mating - a gentle lick, but she didn't get up...


Other than having to walk quite a lot, it's not especially challenging work, so I'll have another go soon for some of those golden shots -I don't have much time before the rut will be over for another year though, so looking at the forecast, maybe I'll try tomorrow !


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Exciting news part II - my website

Well, after a few weeks of toying with various ideas and thoughts, I've finally built my website. My very good friend and website guru Karl created it for me, and it's exactly what I wanted. More stuff will be added over time!but do check it out if you have a moment. Thanks Graham

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Exciting news - Lloyds Art Group

I've been accepted and invited to join the Lloyd's Art Group who are a collective of artists including painters, printmakers, sculptors, photographic and mixed media artists who work in Lloyd’s of London or the London Insurance market or have an immediate connection to it.

I will be part of their exhibition which is taking place at Lloyds of London at the end of this month, and several of my pictures will be on display and for sale, which is a first for me.

Since joining the Group, I've been busy selecting, printing and framing images and it's great to see some of my work presented as it should be. 

My wife Jayne even liked one of my shots so much, she asked if I could frame it for her and hang it on the wall of our dining room. I must be getting something right !

This is the image she liked so much:









Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Something from the weekend.....

Last weekend I posted from the beach using my iphone for the pictures and email. 

Now I'm home I've had a chance to review my images and reflect on an amazing couple of days.

I ahve visited Snettisham many times over the past 4 years or so, and each time has been completely different. When I visited last month, the weather was a mixed bag, with mainly very strong winds and rough conditions. Other times its been bitterly cold.
This weekend is was hot - very hot.

I walked onto the beach on Friday (and for those who've never been, its a 1.5Km walk to the nearest hide) and the temps were up to 29 degrees on my car. I wasn't too fussed about getting pictures, I just made myself comfortable and lay in the sun, waiting for sunset.

When it came, it was stunning;
Geese landing and making thier way to roost



 The colours were fantastic and its a sight I won't forget for a long, long time.
As for people - well, I'd estimate 10 - 15 made it that evening to watch the sun go down over the wash.

After a pleasant night in my tent, I got up at 5am and made my way back.

With high temps forecast again, shorts and a tee-shirt were the order of the day. Slightly chilly at first, but it soon warmed up.

As the tides advanced, so did the birds.


Knot taking off as the tide rises

At times they literally filled the sky

Thousands of Oyster Catchers

The number of people that started to arrive after I did amazed me - to my left and to my right over 200 people made the trek, and I've never seen as many long lenses in one place !

Some of the estimated 200 people that made it for the spectacular

Photography wise, it was OK - evening tides are best at this location because of the light, but I just enjoyed being there in such glorious conditions.

A couple of funny things happened that morning.
First, I thought this chap was Bill Oddie for minute - until he got closer............

Bill Oddie ?


Then there was the guy who arrived carrying camera, back pack, tripod & bean bag. He was wearing full camo including what looked like insulated camo trousers, fleece, jacket liner, 3/4 length camo overcoat, gloves, hat and a neck scarf ! I've worn less when I've sat  out with Calum at the badger site in March.

I walked past the chap on the way back to the car at 10.30. It was 28 degrees at that point.......I wouldn't have wanted to sit next him on the drive home !



Saturday, 1 October 2011

Good morning....

I'm back on the beach this morning having got up at 5 and walked in.

After setting up for the sunrise I thought I might try for some silhouettes against the dawn sky.

Within 30 minutes, I wasn't alone.......

There was only 1 other car in the carpark when I arrived.

As I type this, it's 7.15 and I would say there's now another 100 or more people here.

Still, that gives the mossies plenty of other bodies to feed on.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Norfolk

Hi. Thought I'd try a photo/email blog today, so here goes.

I'm in North Norfolk for a couple of days and I have to say, I've never known anything like it. It's currently 5.10pm and I'm on a beach, in shorts and a teeshirt, wondering how red my sunburn is going to be tonight!

The car showed the temp at 30 degrees earlier, and tomorrow is Oct the 1st.

I've been here before at this time of year and enjoyed bitterly cold days and frosty mornings......this is like July, in Spain.

The next big tide is tomorrow morning, so I'll be up early to see the show.

The forecast is the same for tomorrow too, so it should herald a cracking sunrise.

One comment of the wildlife so far - I've not seen a single barn owl at any of my usual sites. I didn't see any at the end if august either. I hope that's because they've taken to feeding at night again rather than at dawn and dusk.......

Saturday, 17 September 2011

New photographer

A quickie today - while in Norfolk I met Wouter Pattyn, a freelance wildlife photographer from Belgium who regulary travels Europe looking for subjects.

If you've got a few moments, check out his website - www.naturalight.be

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Norfolk Tides

The August Bank Holiday this year coincided with the first of the 'Autumn/Winter' spring tides, so having checked the timings (and with permission from Jayne), I decided to set off with my tent and spend a couple of days in Norfolk to see if I could catch the wading bird spectaculars that occur there at these times.

From experience, these tides can vary greatly from the published times and a lot depends on wind direction, wind strength and low or high pressure etc.,.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I will make any excuse to get up to Norfolk, so come good weather or bad (which was the forecast on this occasion), I set off anyway and crossed my fingers.

On arrival mid afternoon I knew that the tides wouldn't be quite right for the evening,so I took a drive around some of the lanes and off of the beaten track.

I didn't see much to be honest, and I certainly didn't see any Barn Owls, which was what I was hoping for. Although sunny, it was extremely windy, and they don't tend to hunt in these conditions.

What I did find however was a distant hare, hiding in the stubble;



After a pretty restless night at the campsite (which was due to the worsening forecast meaning a lot of people packed and left for home during the night), I climbed out of my sleeping bag, popped on the head torch and set off for the reserve.

The RSPB reserve at Snettisham is quite isolated, and a pretty long walk from the car park - especially when you're carrying all the gear needed for an afternoon or morning of wader watching and photography. If you set off at first light for the walk in, by the time you get to the beach you will have missed the best light and the best of the action if the tide is very early.

The wind was now very strong and it was overcast as I arrived at the beach, and due to the wind etc., the tide was nearly in - a full hour early.

As the wind was so strong, the birds were streaming off the mud flats, and straight over the banks and into the lagoons. 

The light was poor, but from one of the hides I managed to get some slow shutter arty stuff as flocks of Knot arrived;



After an hour or so, with slightly improved light and a falling tide, I went and positioned myself on on the beach as thousands of these super birds started to return to the mud flats to feed;


Now, if you want those wonderful golden lit sunset shots, morning is not the time to visit this location.

The next tide was an evening one, so I crossed my fingers, and went back later in the day for another go, and it certainly looked promising for a while.



Like the morning, the tide was early again, but as the sun was getting lower in the sky it starting to show all the signs of being a spectacular sunset. 

Unfortunately, with such high winds still blowing, the cloud cover was moving very fast and eventually, some impressive clouds moved in to block the sun as it set.


I'll be back there for the next tides very soon.

Whilst writing this piece, I thought I'd add add something about some poor behaviour I witnessed.

These two chaps decided that they could stand inside of the fence, and that the RSPB rules didn't apply to them;



Right below where they are standing is one of the main lagoon roost sites. 

The birds fly in from the Wash, over the banks and then look to settle on the small sand bank in the lagoon. The bank is there to stop the sea from flooding the lagoon during storms and the fence is there to stop people 'skylining' their silhouette and spooking the resting birds. The chap on the left is actually laying on the bank and photographing. 

They stopped and climbed back when they saw me taking pictures of them.

There is a hide 30 yards to their right that would have got them closer - it's where the second picture above was taken !

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The quiet time

Its reached that time of the year when nature goes quiet for a few weeks. That well earned rest from the frantic courting, mating and breeding season that is the British spring and summer.

I returned from my hols with a head full of ideas, but knowing deep down, that I'd have to wait a few more weeks for things to get going again and for the Autumn to really kick in.

At the weekend, Calum and I decided to take a trip to see if the Dartfords that we shot earlier in the year were still about, or more importantly, still approachable.

In a word, the answer was no. After a pre-dawn start, we met and Calum drove to the location - the day looked promising and we certainly heard a lot of the birds calling while they were looking amongst the heather for their food.

The heather was a sea of colour - beautiful purple and mauve.

This was the best shot I managed after 3 hours and more by luck than judgement:


You can get a hint of the colours here, but not really what I was after.....

Later in the day we moved to another location to see what was happening there. I have to say that I was surprised to see that Swallows were still feeding just fledged young - again, this is about the best I could do of one of the parents, with the hungary young behind ......


Monday, 15 August 2011

A short video

...and my last post on the hunting subject. 

On my last day on Gozo I decided to investigate an area where I'd heard shots emanating from. A beautiful and isolated area called the Gharb Cliffs. We could hear the shots from our villa so I decided to take a closer look.

The shots turned out to be bird scarers I think, but nonetheless, the farm looked to be completely surrounded by high shooting platforms overlooking the trees, scrub and vines.

I shot this video a little further along the cliff road where 4 Cory's Shearwater had been illegally shot the week before. 

Apologies for the sound and video quality (and for my video skills !) - once again, this was shot on the wife's Sony Cyber-shot DSC- W30....

video








Friday, 12 August 2011

More on hunting in Malta and Gozo


Following my last post, I took another walk around and took some images with the wifes trusty Sony point and shoot. The image above shows the rear view of one of the hides I found on the cliff tops - it's well constructed from sandstone blocks, has a entrance, strong roof and as you will see, some degree of comfort built in......


View from the front complete with comfy leather look seat...


Below is the view from inside - a commanding position from which to see all that flys past


The user even has a purpose built drain - can't think what that might be used for, but it's at waist height - almost........


This is one of the flat surfaces placed in front of the hide - not what I described in yesterdays blog entry - but on a similar vein. You can see the next 'perch' in the background.

.......and here are the rest in the line, all were set in a rectangle, shortest side from the hide...


the view facing another hide a bit further along the cliff top. You can see the cleared ground and perches on either side...


Another view - here you can see at least 3 hides in close proximity......there are dozens all around the coast line.....


A shooting position and stool..


And from the outside - another hide is in the background..


From this image you can just make out several perches against the sea. They aren't as far away as they look here....


I can't say for sure these are shooting or trapping hides, but I found lots of cartridges scattered around.


Final picture on this subject. This is taken from yet another hide, and from behind. To the right, left and behind you can see block piles - each one one at this location had a small metal cross set into the stone, either a perch, or perhaps some way of holding a net ?


To be honest, I've no way of telling if these are structures are 50 years old or whether they were built last year. Personally, I hope they are 50 years old, and are unused relics of a hobby that has long since passed into the annals history.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A difficult subject

As I type this entry, I am sitting next to my pool looking out across the sea on the lovely, unspoilt island of Gozo, which is located just off the south coast of Malta. This is our second visit to Gozo, having visited some 7 years ago.

Jayne, Hannah and I went for a drive yesterday and explored some of the less accessible parts of the island that we could find - well off of the beaten track and using bumpy unmade roads.

One of the first things I've noticed is the lack of birdlife here. There is a complete absence of any sort of seabird (although I did see a single Oystercatcher this morning). Not being sure as to why, I googled it and found a simple answer contained within a report written in the Independent in 2005 - it said that the reason why there are no gulls is because 'they shot them all'.

At that time, over 2 million birds were being trapped or shot each year - and that was a reduced number. In 1995, the numbers were far higher - something approaching 5 million birds. And yes, you did read that correctly - 5 million birds - now just let that sink in for a moment before you read on.

What I have seen here are a few sparrows, quite a few pigeons (racing pigeons and few escapees) and one or two birds lurking in hedgerows or cactus that I can't get near enough to id.

On our drive/explore I noticed quite a few stone structures that looked to all intents and purposes like pill boxes.

On a long walk/run this morning I went to check one out a bit closer.

It looked very much like a purpose built hide. Placed in front were various posts, 2 - 3 ft of the ground and set at various ranges. All had flat surfaces on top - it looked like the dense, brittle foam that flower arrangers use.

My conclusion (despite an absence of spent cartridges)- it was a hunters hide, and we saw literally dozens of these structures yesterday. The posts and platforms used for seed bait I guess for the tired and hungry migrants.

Whether this was a shooting or net trapping hide I don't know.

The villa we are staying in has wifi, so I did some googling when I got back and I have to say I was pretty horrified at what I found.

I realised very quickly that I knew precious little about hunting in Malta, but a little research brought me to the point of this piece.

During the spring, many birds use Malta and Gozo on their migration to northern breeding grounds.

Under EU law, the hunting of birds during their spring migration and breeding period is prohibited in general. Malta, however, insists on using a derogation clause of the EU Birds Directive for allowing the shooting of a limited number of individuals of two species (Turtle Dove and Quail).

Whilst the numbers of shot species appears to be diminishing (in line with the numbers of hunters) a quick search of the net revealed a litany of recent horror stories - Osprey, Red Footed Falcon, Honey Buzzard, a flock of Spoonbills seeking shelter during a storm, Lesser Falcon, a flock of White Stork - all birds that any wildlife lover would travel to see - all reported as being illegally shot by hunters.

And that's just the birds that have been found dead or injured and handed to the authorities. God knows how many get shot and not reported ?

Something else I've learned today is that when the island was ceded by Charles V to the Knights of St John in 1530, it was on condition that an annual rent of two Maltese falcons (a Peregrine variant) was paid - one to the Spanish emperor and the other to the viceroy of Sicily.

Maltese falcons were reputed to be the finest of the peregrines. By the 1970s, the species had been all but destroyed by hunting. The last pair was shot off Ta' Cenc cliffs in 1980 - this is on Gozo, and this was where we visited yesterday.

It may have been no accident that the bird in Dashiell Hammett's classic detective novel, The Maltese Falcon, is not a real falcon, but a statue. But in the ultimate irony, Malta's national bird, the blue rock thrush, still featured on its one-lira coin - that is until the Euro took over.

Having said all of this, I am not against shooting - provided it is controlled, by the hunters and gamekeepers themselves, and the law. Provided also that the 'shoot' is of purpose reared 'game' birds that are for the table.

I wouldn't do it myself, but then I would eat, and have eaten, the prepared game.

What I can't get my head around however is just blasting something out of the sky for no reason other than 'tradition', or in the name of 'sport'. It staggers me that a place that is so beautiful and has such friendly people can support such a slaughter.

The UK is not immune of course - stories still appear all too frequently of birds of prey being illegally shot or trapped. Thankfully, the perpetrators seem to get caught and prosecuted regularly, so its certainly not open season.

Knowing how much people are willing to spend in their pursuit of rare and elusive species, I wonder what extra revenue would come to the islands if the hunters turned wardens and guides ? It is very evident that EU is investing funds on redevelopment on the islands - perhaps more pressure ought to be brought to bear and funds allocated in this direction ?

Sorry if this has been a depressing read for you, and subject for me to have researched, but I'll try to end on a relatively positive note.

RSPB, CABS (a German bird protection society) and MaltaBirdlife, the numbers of hunters appears to be diminishing. The numbers of licenses applied for is reducing year on year (Gozo had something like 56 applications in 2010 and less than half that for 2011). The Maltese government is also limiting the hunting window - this year was from 13 - 30 April, only.

Let's hope the trend continues and that the annual wonder of the migration of Europe's birdlife can use Malta and Gozo as a springboard rather than a very high, and deadly hurdle.







Saturday, 30 July 2011

The wonders of modern technology

I've not posted for a while, but then I've not really had much to post about.

The Badgers seem to have dispersed and i've been leaving the foxes alone for fear of having them get too used to human company, which on a farm isn't great for a fox's life expectancy.

Why did I title this post in the way I have ? Well, I'm currently sitting in my hide, waiting for a family of little owls to appear that I've been watching with my mate Bob. The light is stunning, but the owls have not come down from their trees yet.

To pass the time, I've been watching Sky sports on my mobile - Broad took a hat trick against India in the second test - a feat never achieved by any bowler in a test against them.

I've also checked the news, have been listening to a bit of radio, and now I'm writing this post - not bad for passing a few hours in my hide.

What about the lowls ? Well, the normally blissfully quiet spot is rather busy this evening unfortunately. The farmers are starting the harvest and the game keeper is busy getting his birds ready in preparation for the shooting season.

It's a wonderful sunset though, so fingers crossed.
 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The perils of being kind.....

I spotted this story in the press this morning:

http://news.helium.com/news/13927-injured-seabird-pecks-rescuer-eye-out

It reminded of my time on Unst as Robbie, Suze and I stumbled across what appeared to be a sick Gannet one evening whilst on our way back from Saxa Vord.

I didn't see the bird at first, but the ever watchful Robbie spotted it tucked into the rocks near the roadside.

Robbie stopped the car and we got out to investigate.

Gannets look quite large on the wing, but up close and on the ground, they are huge - especially with wings out stretched!

As I approached, the bird didn't notice me and sat, with it's head tucked under a wing.

It was only when we got quite close that it awoke. Robbie hung back a bit and when the bird stretched itself to it's full height and started to flap its wings I backed off as well - suddenly being a good Samaritan wasn't quite so appealing.

The bird then made it's way to the shore and swam off into the bay. We'll never know what was wrong with it or whether it survived the night.

One thing I'll never forget though were Robbies words of advice as I approached the bird;

'Be careful Graham - it'll go for your eyes'.............

Sunday, 10 July 2011

New website

A very quick post today I'm afraid.

I've taken the plunge and after several months of deliberation, I've decided to build myself a website. Yep, something I never thought I'd end up doing, but I'm now a good way through setting it up, understanding the site builder I am using and getting to look how I want it to look.
 
As I mentioned, it's still in the design phase and I won't publish details until I am happy with it.....keep watching for news.....................

Sunday, 3 July 2011

stealth nature gear trousers - product review

Whilst photographing on Unst, and experiencing all of the weather conditions that you can experience up there, I thought I'd write a post about my Stealth Nature Gear trousers.

At this point, I would point out that I have the original version and that Stealth have now produced a revised version of the trouser - the mkII.

The trousers themselves are identical to those shown in the link above although mine do not have the removable knee pads and as I will explain below, they do not have the reinforced stitching.

Why did I decide to purchase these trousers ?

Well, I'd been after a pair of trousers that suited me more for photography than my usual Paramo 'waterproof' hiking trousers.

As anyone who as photographed wildlife will tell you, there are certain things that are essential in any clothing item - the main one is waterproofing.

Most 'waterproof' trousers will repel water in various clever coatings or linings however, if you put pressure on an area of the clothing, water will find its way through. My Paramo's certainly allow water to soak through when say, kneeling.

The Stealth Trousers deal with this by firstly having goretex reinforcing on the knees, but also knee pads and a water resistant lining. I'm now quite happy to kneel anywhere to take a shot, get out of sight etc., knowing that I'm not going to get a soggy knee for the rest of the day. As the knee is lightly padded, it also makes kneeling on rough, hard ground a doddle.

The trouser seat also has a Goretex panel but no padding (I've enough padding as it is), which means a dry bum when sitting, which is also a great feature.

Pockets are plentiful with 2 rear bellows pockets, 2 cargo pant style pockets, hand warmer pockets, secure zip pockets and even fold over secure CF card 'storage' (useful, but I'm not sure I'd put my valuable UDMA cards in there !).

The trousers also feature zip out internal gators, a high back with braces buttons and zipped side gussets for ventilation and 'extra' room.

Day to day use -

Firstly, and as mentioned above, waterproofing - tested on Unst in extreme conditions, I can vouch for their waterproofing - walking in sustained rain to Hermaness (and a very heavy storm in the Cotswolds), these trousers remained dry on the inside. Crawling around Puffin burrows on soaking grass also didn't phase them.

Comfort - very comfortable and warm - great for winter, spring and autumn. Due to the layers though, unless you're out on a cold evening/morning, I wouldn't wear them on a warm day, but then that's not what they are designed for anyway. I'd also add that when walking into a location, carrying kit, they do get hot inside - a way of allowing them to breath more would be great for those situations.

Storage - lots - more than enough for keys, gloves, wallets, cable release, cards etc,.

Stealth - very quiet in use - the moleskin helps and is pretty tactile and thornproof.

Downsides - the biggest issue so far for me is that the vertical stitching has split next to the vent zips on either side of the waist band.

Heat - they are warm trousers. When walking a long way to locations with a lot of kit I have got pretty hot, even on cold days. Having said that, I'd rather be warm (and dry) - especially if I am going to be sitting for any period of time when in position.

Overall - I love these trousers and would thoroughly recommend them, provided the drawbacks have been addressed in the MKII version.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Unst - Final thoughts (plus photo's added to previous posts)

I promised in my last Unst post that I would add some final thoughts, so here they are. I've also added some pictures to the other posts, which I hope you will enjoy.

I've interviewed myself for this one............

Did I enjoy my second visit ?  - Most certainly I did. Robbie and Katrina are super hosts and Robbies knowledge of the island and it's wildlife is second to none.

Did I get what I wanted ?  - for the most part I did - it's easy to get photographs of wildlife wherever you go. Getting special images however requires observation, patience and time. After 2 visits to the island, I think I started to be happy with the results of the hours spent. I was lucky enough to photograph species I didn't last year, and improved upon some of the images of subjects I took last year as well.

Would I recommend Unst - Yes, wholeheartdly. It is beautiful place and it has a pace of life all of its own - if you want a photographic challenge, or just a place to unwind.

Where would I head for again on Unst ? - Hermaness, without doubt. Photograph's cannot do it justice, and if it was on mainland UK, it would get thousands of visitors a year which would spoil its rugged isolation.

So that's it......I need to plan next years trip now to wherever that will be..........






Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Unst - the final day

All too quickly, my week in Unst reached it's final day.

The weather wasn't great, so having booked a boat trip to the seabird colonies around Muckle Flugga, we had to wait for confirmation that the boat would be going.

When the call came through, we drove to where the boat is moored and set off for a super trip where the puffins, razorbills, guillemots and gannets where flying and swimming everywhere.

The boat gets you very close. The rocks from sea level are huge and I can only imagine what life would have been like when the light house was manned. It's also pretty scary to imagine what the place would be like during a winter storm - I'd love to see that one day.

After the boat trip it started to rain and having previously decided to walk up to Hermaness, I got dressed up and set off in pouring rain.

I love to photograph wildlife in rain as it adds that extra dimension and providing I am warm and dry, I'm happy.

My Paramo jacket and 'Stealth Gear' trousers kept me dry, but when it eventually stopped raining, the jacket dried a whole lot quicker than the trousers (I'll post a review of these trousers at some point I think as they are great, but have draw backs).

Skua in the rain:



At the top, the cliffs were blanketed in cloud and it was still raining, so I decided to walk to where Robbie had shown us the best area for the Gannets. On the way the rain stopped and what I'd hoped would happen occurred - the Puffins started to emerge from their burrows.

I managed around 20 minutes with these super little birds that will happily allow to crawl right up to them without being bothered - provided you don't make any sudden moves and get down to their level.

That was probably the best part of the afternoon (aside from trying out slow shutter speeds on a Skua in the pouring rain).

After getting back to Ordaal quite late, Robbie and I shared a few too many whiskies before we finally called it a night and that was it, my Unst trip was over for this year.

I'll post up some final thoughts when I get a moment later in the week along with adding some pictures to the other posts I've written this week.

Big thanks to Robbie, Katrina, Sula and Rona for being perfect hosts for the week and for sharing their home. Thanks too for Suze for being such good company this week.

Thanks also to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to read through my ramblings......

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Unst day 6

It's been a very busy last couple of days on Unst and Fetlar.
It's been a super trip and I have enjoyed it even more than I did last year. I'm on my way back home now so with plenty of time to kill at Sumburgh and then Edinburgh airports, it's time to catch up on my blog.
Day 5 was a hit and miss day - a bit of a hit for me, but alas a bit of a miss of Suze. The weather was forecast to be fantastic, and I awoke at 6 to glorious sunshine.
Suze decided to try for flowers and Curlew on Baltasound Sound airstrip and I headed back to Saxa Vord to try to catch a final session photographing the Golden Plover on the morning light.
The Plover was most obliging and by staying in the car, I was able to sit quiet, let the bird relax and wait for it to come closer to the car which it did. Success one for the day.
After a quick breakfast at Ordaal it was off to the Otter site just up the road.

Ordaal House



The sun was shining and the light was getting a bit harsh, but I'm not going to complain as sitting in position with the water lapping, a slight breeze blowing and a few Arctic Terns for company.
There were two problems though - the first was that the tide was only just turning but worse than that, the couple we'd seen earlier in the week were just setting off from their car. Today the lady was not only sporting a bright red coat, but also white trousers.



Hubby then proceeded to wander across all of the high points along the walk which the ever wary otters would spot from a mile away.
Eventually however they moved off and Suze and I decided to swap places on either side of the bay from previous days. As I headed back to my spot I noticed a small movement out of the corner of my eye and there, by the waters edge was a lone otter making for the safety of an old sea wall. He'd spotted me of course before I had an opportunity to duck down.
With the whole bay in view however, I got into position all the while keeping an eye out for the otter to reappear. As Robbie says however, otters are like mercury and this one just vanished.
And hour of a half of watching and he didn't reappear.
What did show up though was a Red Throated Diver. A fantastic looking bird - especially in sunlight. The diver was quartering the bay so I decided to try get into position.
Divers spend a degree of their time face down in the sea looking for fish, so along with their frequent dives, a bit of uncomfortable crawling over sharp rocks got me into position, low down in the weeds at the waters edge.
Sure enough, the diver eventually swum close by and I got my shots. Beautiful birds with fantastic coloration and a striking red eye.



Unfortunately, Suze didn't get to see any otters, but we'd booked a ferry for Fetlar and had to leave.
Fetlar is a 20 minute ferry ride from Unst, or longer if you have to do the leg to Yell first before the ferry goes on to Fetlar.
One of the reasons to visit Fetlar is to visit an RSPB reserve called Loch Funzie (pronounced 'Finny') where the very rare Red Necked Phalarope breeds and feeds. The nest sites are actually in the near by mires, but the birds are supposed to feed on the Loch, which is fairly small and shallow.
This was my third visit in 2 years and Suze' third in as many years. Suze has seen one Phal, and I've not seen them at all.
Today was to prove no different. I fact, the loch was very quiet indeed with very little life evident aside from a few terns and gulls.
We sat for a couple of hours and nothing appeared, and so we are beginning to suspect that something has changed at the site which means that the Phals have moved elsewhere on the island.
Numbers have been very low with very few sightings in the past few years, which is a great shame as a lot of visitors come to see these diminutive waders, and this must create a lot of extra income for Fetlar.
Having given up on the Phals we moved to another spot where Great Skuas regularly bathe.
This was much more successful as in the evening light, the water spray and running take off's towards the camera where great.



Another late finish to the day, but 3 successful sessions with different species which will hopefully produce some great results which I post when I have some time for processing.

Graham Goddard ARPS

Friday, 10 June 2011

Unst - day 5

It was a long day yesterday.

The forecast was for good weather and with the days being so long up here, you could literally start at 4am and go through until 11pm. I didn't quite make 4am but we stayed up to watch the sun set at Muckle Flugga at 10.50!

After a few whiskies with Robbie the night before, I clambered out of bed at 6am and made my way to Saxa Vord with Suze to see if we could photograph the Golden Plover and Bonxies in the morning light.

After coming back for some breakfast we popped to an Otter site quite close to Robbies new place, split up, got as comfortable as one can when sitting on rocks with rotting seaweed nearby, and waited. And waited, and waited.......

3 hours passed and nothing showed - i found out later from one of Robbies friends, Brydon Thomason from Shetland Nature Tours, that a group of photographers had recently hammered the site and the otters are now very wary of shutter noise - a shame and very poor from a nature lovers point of view. The subject always has to come first, not the photo ! Disturbance of a feeding animal gives photographers very bad name.......

Suze and I decided to then visit Hermaness as I really wanted to spend a lot of time with the puffins that had been all over the cliffs on Monday. The walk to the cliffs is a killer, even without a stack of gear.

When I arrived, there were no puffins - and that's how it stayed all afternoon. Very strange, but plan b was to walk on to the gannet colony and there I stayed for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Watching the constant action and movement is fascinating - some of the pairs haven't a nest site yet and others had a chick already. Constant noise, movement and that particular smell that only comes from a seabird colony.

Robbie and Suze picked me up at 9.30 and we drove to the top of Saxa Vord for the sunset - none of us are landscapers, so we were probably better off leaving the cameras in the car to be honest, but the sight was amazing.



I'll try and add some pics and links to these posts when I get home so that if you ever decide to visit the island above all others, you'll see what I've been blogging about.

Off for more otters now and then Fetlar for the afternoon.....

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Unst - day 4

2 otters this morning, one of which was eating the head of a Salmon which I guess may have been a dead one from the Salmon farm in Baltasound Sound.

The Salmon farmer has been farming his stock this week and it looked like a seal had eaten the carcass and disgarded the head which the otter had found.

The otter took the head to the opposite side of the bay and so I had to plan how to get to it - without being seen, heard or smelt !

After some serious fieldcraft - running across a small beach, crawling through a lot of weed and slippery rocks.

I found that the otter must have seen me crossing the beach though as when I arrived however he had scarpered.

The fish head was still there though, so after getting into position, I waited.

Sure enough, after 30 minutes, the otter couldn't resist coming back to his tasty free meal before the gulls got to it.

The otter was incredibly wary, but with poor eyesight, and without being able to pick up my scent(perhaps because by now, my kit now mainly smells of sheep poo and seaweed) he eventually came back to find his prize and I got my shots.

As I can't process here, you'll have to wait to see them (now added though):



The weather is very changeable so I decided to spend the rest of the day on the beach - initially at Skaw, then down at Westing.

Aside from another otter sighting, the day was very quiet apart from a late afternoon trip to the old MOD early warning site at Saxa Vord. And incredible place !

With Suze driving, I managed a few pics of a Golden Plover (new species for me) in pouring rain - I hope the pics come out as they will be dramatic.



It's now 10.20 and not dark yet - if it clears, I'll be up at 4 to catch the dawn !

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Unst - day 3

What a great 3 days we've just had.

After a brief scare at Edinburgh airport when Logan Air told us that the weight limit for hand luggage had decreased from 10kg to 6kg (we transferred the excess stuff into our pockets and were allowed on the plane !), we arrived on Shetland in glorious sunshine.

After a quick visit to Sumburgh Head we then set out to drive up to Unst.

Mondays weather was poor to start with, but improved all day and at 11pm (!) we watched a super sunset.

Monday morning we saw 3 otters, but the light was poor, so no pictures.

Later we went to Fetlar to see if we could find the Red Necked Phalaropes, but for the second year, they eluded me. After a return to Unst, we spent the rest of the day watching seals, Eiders, Dunlin and Sanderling before an evening visit to Lamberness and the old MOD site at the north of the island.
Today was spent on Hermaness - the walk in wasn't quite as tiring as last year and on arrival at the top, the puffins were everywhere. Being so trusting and curious, they were walking within a few feet of where I was sitting and a joy to watch.



Bonxies were on the hunt for the Puffins, the Fulmars were soaring and showing off on the updrafts and Gannet were constantly streaming past and looking.
Hermaness is a huge place and utterly beautiful. Rugged, windswept, and at this time of year full of the sights, sounds (and smells !) of seabirds.



Dependent upon the wind direction, you can position yourself to get pictures of fulmar and gannet hanging on the updrafts - I hope the pictures I took today are sharp.
Anyway, it's 10.50, still light, but time for bed......

Graham Goddard ARPS

Saturday, 4 June 2011

My travels

This will be a short post today - 1 to test to see if I can post remotely and 2 to say that I am off to the wonderful Shetland islands tomorrow for a week of photography.

If you've followed my blog regularly you'll know I visited there last year. I loved it so much I'm going again.

I'm travelling with a friend, Suze, and staying with Robbie Brookes (whose own blog can be found in the blog links section on this page) - he's a great guide, photographer and naturalist and loves to share info about his beautiful island, Unst - the most northerly in the UK.

If I can, I'll post a few trip reports while on location, but pictures will have to wait as I can't load them from my iPad.

Cheers


Graham Goddard ARPS

Monday, 30 May 2011

Fox cubs

A month or so ago I was exploring a local area when suddenly something slightly grey in colour and with a long tail darted across my path and disappeared into the undergrowth.

All I got was a fleeting glimpse - if I'd been looking in a different direction I wouldn't have seen it.

I racked my brain - what could that have been ? Rabbit - no, tail too long. Hare - no, same reason. Stoat - possibly, but it was slightly too big. Fox - couldn't have been, could it ??

Well, just as I moved forward another one shot across in front of me and into what I could now see was a well used hole. Further inspection revealed obvious signs of use with feathers and the like littering the area.

I retreated, covered my face, pulled my hat down and stayed motionless as I tried to blend with the trunk of a large tree.

10 minutes later, a little head appeared and yes, it was a very young fox cub. In a few moments a second head appeared and after a careful sniff of the air, to charming little cubs emerged from their den to play.


I watched for a few minutes until they spotted me, or picked up my scent, and after a hard stare to work out what I was, they dissappeared and left the area.

The den site is very overgrown and using a 500mm @ f4, I am lucky to be getting shutter speeds above 1/100th, but careful technique and choice of moment is proving successful.

Since I discovered it, I've been back to the site several times a week and have watched the cubs progress. They certainly are growing fast, doubling in size since I discovered them and their coats are turning from a greyish pink to a lovely red.

Not sure how long they will stay around the den, but I intend to make the most of the opportunity to photograph something I've wanted to work on since I got my DSLR.

As I've mentioned, the light is particulary challenging in the area, so rather than attempt to introduce artificial light, I decided to work with the shadows instead.

Here is my best 'moody' effort so far - keep coming back to check for more:


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Finally - success !

Hi, my first post for a while, but then I've had a pretty busy period since my last entry.

Spring seemeds to have arrived in a rush and nature has gone mad - some of the birds I watch regulary have bred, had their chicks and are preparing for their second brood. For instance, my local Kingfisher chicks have fledged and the parents are busy digging a second nest tunnel.

One project my friend
Calum and I have been working on (for a year now), are badgers, and if you're a regular follower of this blog, you'll know we've not been hugely sucessful.

I discovered a set last year. All the signs indicated it being an active set, but getting shots has proved to be a massive challenge and learning curve, and not to mention an expensive exercise.

Aside from a few super close-up experiences in 2010, photographs were very had to get and we closed our efforts that year with one, not particulary great image.


This year, we set about trying to get some better stuff, and so far, after 2 nights at the set with the cameras, we've come away with some super images.
One problem we have though is that in getting the badgers to where we need them. We've been putting out peanuts to tempt them, but of course, they then feed face down so the next challenge is to get them 'face up'.

Here's our first, acceptable effort - the badger is on it's first venture from the set of the evening and busy checking out my camera............more on this project to follow:

Friday, 22 April 2011

Dartford Warblers and an apology

May I start this entry with an apology - I bought an iPad a couple of weeks ago and in trying to use it for Blog entries on-the-fly, I've managed to publish a couple of unfinished Posts.....(it also won't allow me to upload pictures for some reason) so sorry if you've got an email with nothing to read !

Now to the main reason for this entry - possibly my favourite bird in the UK, the Dartford Warbler.

It is a bird that I have sought to photograph for a very long time with my inspiration to do so coming from seeing a wonderful image from the cover of an RSPB magazine a couple of years ago that had a classic, simple image of a Dartford sitting atop a gorse bush, singing his heart out to any ladies present.

Primarily breeding on heathland, often near coasts and using gorse bushes for nesting, the Dartford is insectivorous and populations can and do suffer during harsh winters when insects are hard to come by.

Dartford Warblers are named after Dartford Heath, but the population became extinct there in the early 20th century.

The winter of 1962/1963 was particularly severe and UK numbers dropped to just 10 pairs which shows how fragile this species can become when conditions turn for the worse.

The birds recover well though in good quality habitat, thanks to repeated nesting and a high survival rate for the young and so I am pleased to say that where I photographed my Dartfords, they now have 40+ pairs that survived the last 2 winters well and continue to thrive.

As I said at the start of this piece, I've tried to photograph these super birds for quite a while now but every time I went to find them conditions weren't quite right - too windy (they stay in cover), too wet, or I was simply looking in the wrong place !

Here's the best image I've processed so far from 2 full days at the site:



Saturday, 2 April 2011

RPS Nature Group

Just a quickie today.

In the DPI section of the RPS nature 2011 competition, I got 5 out of 6 acceptances and 1 highly commended!

Not bad for my first entries......

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Morning light

The last weekend before the clocks changed provided some of the best light I've seen so far this year.

Pretty much all bird species are in breeding plumage and the males are showing off looking for a mate.

Male Pheasants are particularly colourful and will display regularly at this time of year. Carefully choosing your position for the rising, or setting, sun can result in some spectacular images.

I'm rather proud of this one.......

Norfolk - the rest of the trip

So what else did we do in Norfolk ?

I was after particular shots, rather than record shots and so my photography was limited - I wanted good light and if that didn't happen, then I was happy to just look and show the other guys around the area I know so well and love.

Different birds were moving around each day - we saw Teal, Gadwal, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Snow Bunting, Pink Footed Geese and many other species.

My favourite shot of the weekend was this one of a Teal;



All in all, a great weekend - good fun, some serious photography and best of all - a long weekend in my favourite place of all.