SOMERSET LEVELS 356 – IT FELT GOOD TO BE ALIVE

 

 

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I’d driven down to the end of the little, single track road – Allermoor Drove – that runs out westwards onto Aller Moor, on the Somerset Levels.  It wasn’t actually the end of the drove as that continues onwards as a rough track, but my days of driving saloon cars off-road are long past and, indeed, far away, on another continent.  But, anyway, I’d turned the car around ready for departure, and was downing hot, sweet coffee while demolishing a thick, brown, bitter marmalade sandwich.

And beside me was a water-filled ditch – a rhyne – dense with summer’s lush growth.  And from that ditch was coming the loud, reeling song of a Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus if you want to know.  That small bird had flown – probably mainly by night – all the way from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in this little, wet ditch in Somerset.  Probably, it had bred in this ditch last year too and, if it survives, it will be here next year to do so again.  The Germans have a word for this, it is ortstreuer, this almost fanatical attachment to one small breeding site on a vast continent.

And as I stood there listening to that loud, reeling song, the bird shot up into the air several times in his fierce, hormone-driven, territorial frenzy, before dropping back once more into the safety of the ditch’s lush green depths.  And of course I know Sedge Warblers from before – those I encountered seeing out the northern winters in Africa’s warm, dense, insect ridden lushnesses – and those long before that, 50 years and more ago now, when I first started looking at birds, here in Somerset.

And as I stood there listening to that loud and lusty song, it felt good to be there with that bird, it felt good in fact to be alive, and I found myself talking to him – “Yes, come on, do it, go for it, go for it!!!”.  And that felt good too.  But then I often do such things when anything like in contact with the natural world.

Beside the ditch there was a field gate, with a long strand of orange bailer twine hanging from it, being blown about by the breeze, and a carpet of white wildflowers stretching out beyond.   And as I photographed that gate, the first, uncertain splashes of rain were cool on the back of my neck, and suddenly they were a downpour.

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I ran for the car, hunched over the camera, trying to shield it from the streaming water.  And so into the car, slamming the door, but the ******* electric window was down and I couldn’t find the car keys to switch the ignition on to raise it again – a plague on electric windows!!!  The rain poured into the car.  I cursed savagely and pulled my backpack over the two cameras on the seat beside me, trying to keep them dry.  The keys appeared, the window closed, I cursed some more, and the downpour drummed on the car.  And as I looked out through the streaming windscreen, the view before me – the trees, the sky, the little road – came alive and dissolved into a living, moving mass, and picking up the X-T2, I photographed that too.
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And, amongst all of that Nature, raw and real, it continued to feel good to be alive.
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Click onto each image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it further.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens; 100 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Aller Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 14 June 2019.

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BRISTOL 138 – SHAFT OF SUNLIGHT, IN A GRAVEYARD (MONO)

 

 


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This picture is best viewed enlarged: click onto it to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

A day out together photographing in Bristol: Paula and I walked up the narrow St John’s Steep, heading into the Old City.  Street art and interesting facades and alleyways were all around, and on our left was a fenced and partly overgrown area with several obviously old graves – it was part of an old, disused graveyard.

A shaft of brilliant sunlight lit the scene, illuminating hosts of flowers that had run wild, and also some of the greenery around them. 

Then, a pigeon walked into the scene and was – for an instant – silhouetted against the glare.

Technique: Z 6 with 24-120 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 180mm; 800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral V2 picture control; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the High Contrast Yellow Filter and adding a moderate Coffee tone; St John’s Steep, in Bristol city centre; 3 June 2019.
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TALKING IMAGES 50 – USING THE NIKON Z 6 TO PHOTOGRAPH SMALL BIRDS IN FLIGHT

 

 

All images: Skylarks in song flight, Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 May 2019.

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Something that I’m interested to test on Nikon’s new Z 6 mirrorless camera is the accuracy and speed of the autofocus, and flying birds are – for an ex-birder like me – an obvious target.   To this end, I’ve already posted a picture of swans in flight here .

But down on the Somerset Levels recently, I aimed the camera at something far smaller and more elusive.  Skylarks kept leaping up from grassy fields all around me and ascending into their wonderful, towering song flights and so, using back button focusing (also described here ), I took a few potshots at them in silhouette.  These birds are about 7 inches (16-18cm) from bill tip to tail tip when laid out flat and, moving rapidly and erratically around, they presented quite a challenge.  The final image here shows the whole frame of the shot above it, to give an idea both of the birds’  size in the (electronic) viewfinder, and of how enlarged the first three of these images are.  All pictures were taken at 300mm telephoto, at 800 ISO.

There are two points to make here.  First, I used Dynamic Area Autofocus, where the camera takes information about the target not only from the focus point being used, but also from surrounding points if – like these small birds – the target is moving rapidly and erratically.  I used a single autofocus point, the central one, throughout.

And second, I used the lens I’m married to, the 70-300 AF-S Nikkor which – like me! – may be showing its age (from 2007) a little now.  To which end, I’ve acquired the 2017 upgrade, the 70-300 AF-P Nikkor – and time will tell on how this one performs!

The resulting images here are certainly not perfect, but to me they are in the right ballpark, and I’m looking forward to further testing.  Click onto each image to open a larger version in a separate window.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 345 – MALLARD ON THE NORTH DRAIN (MONO)

 

 


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A pair of Mallard, a very common duck, on the calm waters of the North Drain, on Tealham Moor.  The more ornate male is on the left, and the far more camouflaged female on the right.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 450mm; 500 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Flat V2 picture control; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Underexpose EV -1 preset and adding a strong coffee tone; the North Drain on Tealham Moor, on the Somerset Levels, seen from the Jack’s Drove bridge; 12 Apr 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 343 – SWANS ABOVE TEALHAM MOOR (MONO)

 

 


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This image contains a lot of detail and is best viewed enlarged: click onto it to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

Looking eastwards across Tealham Moor at 7am, with the sun risen and mist rising into the cool air.  There are no sounds, save for those of the light breeze and, as is so often the case here, gently running water.

And then the singing of Mute Swans’ wings, and three of them, flying quite low, heading north across the moor.

(And another bird to see: a Rook, one of the crows, perched on the dark fencing at lower right; its looking towards the camera, and can only be seen as a dark bird with a pale face – the latter in fact being the pale grey bill and the bare, pale grey skin on the face – the bird uses its longish (for a crow) bill for probing into turf and earth, looking for worms, insects, etc, and its bare facial skin is presumably less soiled (every pun intended!) by the dirt than facial feathers would be.)

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 450mm; 640 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Vivid V2 picture control; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the High Contrast Green Filter preset and adding a medium coffee tone; looking east across Tealham Moor from just south of Westham, on the Somerset Levels; 3 May 2019.
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ANNIVERSARY – FATMAN PHOTOS IS EIGHT – PLUS SOME PICTURES FROM KENYA

 

 

Maasai woman

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Well, FATman Photos is eight years old, and once more I marvel at its longevity.  I read that photo blogging is addictive, and think this quite possibly true.  What is certainly true is that I find blogging a wonderful source of creativity and self-expression and a vast motivation for my photography – and that I enjoy the contact with “all of you out there” very much.  As always, thank you for looking at my blog, for adding Likes and making Comments – all of which are responded to.

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And news?  Well, two things to mention.  First, I’ve taken to carrying the diminutive Olympus TOUGH TG-5 camera with me on my long, relaxing and (hopefully!) waistline-reducing walks around south Bristol – and so to the Outer Suburbs project, which now has over a hundred posts – there is a recent summary of this project here .

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And second – and perhaps at the other end of the camera/photography spectrum – I’ve started using one of Nikon’s new full-frame, mirrorless cameras, the Z 6, which is a joy to use, and which certainly looks promising.  More details here .

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Long ago, I lived in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, for 12 years.  I started off lecturing at the University of Nairobi, and then went into tourism, leading bird and general wildlife safaris.  To say that I liked both Kenya and its people, and enjoyed the life there, is vast understatement.  I’ve been back in the UK for 30 years now, but those 12 years in Kenya have undoubtedly affected me, they have given me different ways of looking at and thinking about many things.  I don’t think I was “mainstream” to start with (well, ok, the word on the street might have been that I was getting towards being a complete wacko … 😉 ), but my time in Kenya added other things, and I’ve never really totally fitted in back here >>> and I’m grateful for that.  Its both pointless and intriguing to think how I might have turned out if, rather than going to Kenya, I’d stayed in the UK and “settled down” …

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So, here are 12 pictures from Kenya, all of which have been posted before – all are colour slides (transparencies – remember them?) that I scanned into digital sometime back; mostly Agfa CT18 slide film, that could be bought and processed in Nairobi; most of these pictures were taken with a simply wonderful and beautiful Olympus OM-1 camera, and others with the more automated OM-2, both with Olympus’s small, excellent Zuiko lenses – and both dearly loved, classic cameras which – old and mouldy now – I still possess.

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I hope you will like these pictures.  Thank you again for looking at FATman Photos.

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Adrian

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Tsavo West National Park
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Gecko with prey – several of these lived in my flat in Nairobi: I lived a simple life, with no phone or TV, and one of my enduring and very fond memories is of sitting quietly at home with a book in the evenings, and hearing these little lizards chattering back and fore to each other from the walls on either side of my living room.

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Lion asleep on a track in Maasai Mara

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Shaft of sunlight in Amboseli Game Reserve, with the dark slopes of Kilimanjaro as a backdrop

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Rocky semidesert in northern Kenya: the woman is leading the camels, each of which is loaded with baggage and tied to the animal in front

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The huge skies which I miss so very much, and which I find some memory of when out on the Tealham and Tadham Moors, on the Somerset Levels

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Luo farmers in Kenya’s far west

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Settlement in Kenya’s bleak – and vastly attractive – northern deserts; note the rough thornbush fences around each dwelling, to keep the stock animals safe at night; on the horizon is the great volcanic massif of Mt Marsabit, and every hill in this landscape is volcanic in origin; I’d picked up a liking for such empty vastnesses some years before, in Oman

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Storm over Lake Nakuru, in the rift valley; flamingos in the foreground, and more of them, and pelicans too, in flight further away

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Sunrise at Lake Nakuru: cormorants (some with their wings spread out to dry) and a great scrum of pelicans; and bare trees, killed by this soda lake’s alkaline waters

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BIRDS 109 – MALE BLACKBIRD

 

 


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Gazing at agricultural rubbish on the western edges of Tealham Moor, and loving it, loving the real, bare, unembroidered, what-you-see-is-what-you-get nature and feel of the place – when a male Blackbird appeared on top of a hedge and looked at me.  Well, this is the breeding season and the fierce and fiery hormones of territoriality were coursing through his veins.  He was disinclined to move – I was on his territory, and that was that.

The new Z 6 was in my hand, with the lens I’m married to – the 70-300 zoom – attached, and it was the work of an instant to change the camera to APS-C format – so that my telephoto expanded from 300mm to a more far reaching 450mm – and, very carefully and slowly, I raised the camera to my eye.  The light was dreadful and I needed a high shutter speed to ensure sharpness at the x9 telephoto magnification, and so to wide open at 1/1600th and 3200 ISO – and to very gently squeezing the trigger.  This is a cropped version of one of the photos – 1521×1079 pixels.

Here he is.  The Z 6’s shutter is not loud, and very carefully I took a series of shots, he and I both like statues, eyeing each other.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it further – recommended.

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in APS-C format at 450mm; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral V2 picture control; Tealham Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 12 Apr 2019.

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ARCHIVE 403 – TURNSTONE, ST IVES

 

 


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Turnstone in winter plumage, on the West Pier at St Ives, Cornwall; 21 Sept 2016.

The Turnstone is a small wader (aka shorebird) that derives its name from its habit of turning over stones on beaches in the hope of finding things to eat underneath.

Its usually a bird seen at a distance, small and brown on the foreshore.  But at St Ives in Cornwall, especially when the tide is up, small groups dart about on this seaside resort’s promenade, often literally around the feet of holidaymakers.

And so, being on holiday and carefree(!), I bought a pasty as a second breakfast and sat on a seat munching the golden beast and staring out to sea, when several of these little birds swarmed around my feet.  Well, I can take a hint, and as small pasty morsels were scattered around, these little creatures went into super-speed mode and downed the lot in an instant – for an ex-birder like me, almost a surreal moment!

Click onto the image to open another version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it.

Technique: X-T1 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 800 ISO.

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BEATING OF A WING

 

Today I heard the beating of a crow’s wing, and it gladdened my soul.

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STANTON DREW 61 – WINTER SCENE (MONO)

 

 


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This image is best viewed enlarged – click onto it to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it.

Gull flock amongst the prehistoric standing stones at Stanton Drew.  Such flocks are a common sight on pastureland during the winter: this one consists mostly of Black-headed Gulls (lacking the dark heads of their breeding plumage), but there are a few Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in there too.

Tall, dark stones, sombre sentinels (sombre sentinels??? >>> what on earth am I on???) overlook the scene, and bare winter trees form the backdrop.

Already posted images from this early morning shoot are here: 1 (with context) 2 3 4 5 6 7 .  Each will open in a separate window.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 300mm (equiv); 800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting  at the Underexpose EV-1 preset and adding a light Selenium tone; Stanton Drew, in the Chew Valley south of Bristol; 14 Dec 2018.
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