STILL LIFE 159 – ASSASSIN (MONO)

 

 


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Perception can so often be a matter of viewpoint. 

To our eyes, this may be a beautiful, even elegant, wild creature, the sight of which lifts our spirits and, indeed, our quality of life.

But in the real world, that thick, serpentine, muscular neck, and that dagger of a bill, are the tools of a precise and eminently stealthy predator – and any small creature moving under the water, if it sees this killer at all before being struck, views it quite differently.

Another picture of a Great White Egret at Chew Valley Lake, the first picture of this bird, is here.

Click onto this image to open a larger (and grainier) version in a separate window, and click onto that image to marginally enlarge it further.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 200 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Film Noir 1 preset and adding a light coffee tone; Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake; 6 Oct 2017.  This is a huge enlargement of an APS-C image, with the X-T2 working at its highest quality, native 200 ISO.
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BIRDS 95 – GREAT WHITE EGRET – AND A NEW BIRD FOR MY UK LIST!!!

 

 

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Last Friday, driving home past Chew Valley Lake, I saw a white heron out of the corner of my eye and automatically assumed that it was a Little Egret, a bird that was very rare here in my youth but which has flooded into southern Britain in recent decades.  But, all in an instant, it hit me that it looked far too big for a Little – and my car swerved across the thankfully empty road, I grabbed the bins, leapt out and, well, here it is pictured above – it is a Great White Egret, a bird of warmer, more southerly climes and, as far as I knew, a great rarity – tho not new for my UK bird list, as I’d already seen one on Benbecula, in the Outer Hebrides, in the 1990s.

Well, I will summarise what happened next.  I immediately met a birder from South Wales, a chap of my age, and as we looked out over this small part of the lake – the Herons Green Bay that I’ve often spoken of before – we found 18 Little Egrets, 12 of these Great White Egrets – and a single Cattle Egret, a bird I’d never seen in Britain before, but which I’m very familiar with from 12 years in Kenya.  Unfortunately this new bird was too far away for anything like a decent photo – I wished I’d been carrying a full-frame Nikon and 400+mm of telephoto reach!

I’m not a bird lister these days, its simply a type of collecting, and while I was reasonably into it during my birding decades, 1967-2002, a great chunk of my life really, I now have a far more relaxed attitude to birds.  I still enjoy them hugely, I love to see them and they certainly significantly raise my Quality Of Life – as do butterflies.  But I am now out the frenetic race to see more and more bird species – I’ve moved on, as the current phrase goes, and I’m different now.

But, nevertheless, seeing a new bird for my UK list so unexpectedly was quite a (nice) shock – and this welcome feeling was only enhanced by the setting, because Herons Green was one of the Somerset locations where I started birding all those years ago.  I’ve travelled quite a bit I suppose, including living in Kenya, but now I’m happy to be, more or less, “back where I started”.  Is it a “coming home” thing, well I don’t know, although I am now very close to where I grew up – but I do know that ending up here in southwest England – Somerset, and sometimes Dorset, Devon and Cornwall too – feels right.

Click onto the image to open another copy in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it – recommended.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 200 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Chew Valley Lake, south of Bristol; 6 Oct 2017.
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BIRDS 94 – HERRING GULL (MONO)

 

 


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Adult Herring Gull, in winter plumage, beside the harbour in St Ives, Cornwall; 20 Oct 2016.

A piercing stare – (s)he was sitting on top of a car parked on the harbourside, and I eased forwards, taking little steps, often pausing, and making a diagonal rather than head-on approach.  The D800 was set for APS-C format, and so I had 450mm – 9x magnification – to play with.  I made some very low clicking noises with my tongue, and (s)he looked at me.

How I love gulls!  They were all around during my childhood, they are all over Bristol now, and their wild calls are just that – a very welcome reminder of the wild across the city’s skyline.  They fly in to the city very early each morning, while its still dark – because its ok to get lost when the day is just starting.  But they leave before dusk, because getting lost at night is another matter entirely.

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

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens, used in APS-C format to give 450mm; 400 ISO; Lightroom; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Fine Art High Key preset.
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BIRDS 93 – YOUNG GULL

 

 

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Young gull beside the harbour in St Ives, Cornwall; 20 Oct 2016.

My guess is that this is a young Herring Gull, because the breast streaking is rather diffuse, but it could be a Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Either way, it hatched from its egg in the summer, and is now well on the way towards its first taste of winter.

It is standing by the harbour, it is “loafing” as birders say – it has eaten, it is not starving but, as is often the case with gulls, it is alert to all that is going on around it, and ever ready to dive opportunistically upon anything that presents itself – like your fish and chips!

Click onto the image to open it in another winsow, and click onto that image to enlarge it.

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 400 ISO; Lightroom.
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STANTON DREW 34 – VILLAGE LIFE 1

 

Stanton Drew is a village of 800 or so people in the Chew Valley, not far south of Bristol.  Its a small, quiet village, pleasant to walk around, and notable for of its prehistoric stone circles.  As the title to this post shows, I’ve already published 33 photos –  of decidedly varying quality, it must be said – from this little place.  Now, having neglected it for sometime, I’m going to post some more photos, some seen before, some not.  And I might even manage to get myself sufficiently together to stroll around there photographing some more, maybe with a rather different eye than on my previous visits – time will tell.  If nothing else, there’s a wonderfully peaceful, rural churchyard, and a welcoming pub which has blazing log fires.
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Stanton Drew does have a narrow but reasonably busy road passing through it and, on something which is almost a large traffic island there is a garden, the surface of which is not far below eye level – which makes shots like this so much easier to take.  This garden has no fences around it, and the few chickens that live there seem to know that fluttering down from their elevated home will only bring problems.  They are reasonably tame, and I’ve found that crouching down out of sight below the edge of the raised garden, waiting until their calls are loud and near, and then very slowly emerging up beside them, pays dividends.

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

Technique: X-T1 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 400 ISO; Lightroom.
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ARCHIVE 322 – FLAMINGOS AT DAWN

 

 


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Dawn at Lake Nakuru, central Kenya; July 1978.

At around 6,000 feet above sea level, even this close to the equator, it was a cold dawn, and especially so for those of us who, living in Kenya, were becoming acclimatised to the place.  I had taken many pictures and was feeling the cold and sleepy, when suddenly this flamingo flock glided down over birds already in the water – and I just fired at them –  a very lucky, single snapshot with a 400mm telephoto.  I very much like the combination of the pale blues of the early morning light with the whites and pinks of the flamingos’ plumage.

The birds in the water are mainly Greater Flamingos, which are a little larger than the Lesser Flamingo, with less stridently pink plumage and paler bills.  A few Lesser Flamingos, very pink, are at the left hand end of the flock in the water.  The dark bills of the birds coming down to join those in the water identify them all as Lesser Flamingos.

Two dark Cormorants (the same species as in the UK) are flying right to left, low over the water, behind all the flamingos.

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

Technique: haha! can’t remember! >>> except that the great hulk of a 400mm telephoto, which I still have, was made by Vivitar.
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ARCHIVE 316 – FULMAR

 

 


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Fulmar flying around East Cliff; West Bay, Dorset; 23 April 2015.

Looking very much like a seagull, this is in fact a true seabird that spends most of its life out on the open seas and only comes ashore to breed – the reason why this individual was around the cliffs at West Bay.  It can at once be told from a gull by the little kink and ridge on the top of its bill that houses nasal passages, something that gulls don’t have.

Living out on the open seas as they do, and eating things like squid, fish and shrimps, these birds are up to their ears in salt – some of which they manage to get rid of by excreting it as a strong saline solution through their noses.  And, should one of these beauties feel that you’re approaching it too closely on a cliff, they will vomit their foul smelling stomach oils over you –  to give you a gentle hint …

And finally here’s a fascinating passage from Wikipedia: “Fulmars have for centuries been exploited for food. The engraver Thomas Bewick wrote in 1804 that “Pennant, speaking of those [birds] which breed on, or inhabit,   the Isle of St Kilda, says—’No bird is of so much use to the islanders as this: the Fulmar supplies them with oil for their lamps, down for their beds, a delicacy for their tables, a balm for their wounds, and a medicine for their distempers.  …..  James Fisher, author of The Fulmar (1952) calculated that every person on St Kilda consumed over 100 fulmars each year; the meat was their staple food, and they caught around 12,000 birds annually.”.  But no, before you ask, I’ve never tasted one!  And I recommend that St Kilda link – if only for the sounds of the sea! –  I’ve never been there, but it was a constant and brooding presence, far off to the west, when I was on the Western Isles some years back.

There is another Fulmar image, and more context, here.

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

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor used at 300mm in DX (= APS-C) format to provide 450mm; 400 ISO.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 296 – MISTY MORNING, ALLERTON MOOR 2 (MONO)

 

 


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Mute Swans in the water-filled ditch – the rhyne (rhymes with seen) – that runs along beside the mostly single track road across Allerton Moor.

A misty morning.  The rhyne, which does duty as the field’s fence in this wet part of the world, runs on off into the distance before starting to bear off to the left, where a faintly seen fence beside the road keeps the unwary traveller from the deep and glutinous clutches of the dark water and ooze. 

Up right of the swans, cattle at the rhyne’s edge: there may be a place there where they can get down safely to the water’s edge to drink. And behind the cattle, in the murk, farm buildings.

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

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 400 ISO; Lightroom, using the Provia/Standard film preset; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at Janice’s Infrared preset; Allerton Moor, west of Chapel Allerton; 22 Aug 2017.

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ARCHIVE 305 – SUNRISE WITH THREE DUCKS (MONO + COLOUR)

 

 


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Three ducks and the sunrise over Tealham Moor, south of Wedmore, on the Somerset Levels; 23 Nov 2012.

As with my pictures of crows aloft , the birds are dwarfed by the immensity of their element, yet quite at one with it.

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

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 400 ISO; conversion to mono and colour restoration in Silver Efex Pro 2.

UPDATE: Minimalism once more, and the slightly unreal look of colour restored to a black and white image.

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ARCHIVE 304 – SWAN PREENING (MONO)

 

 


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Mute Swan preening in the harbour at Mevagissey, Cornwall; 24 Oct 2012.

Two of these beautiful waterbirds appear very much at home in this harbour – no doubt vastly encouraged by the people who regularly feed them!  Having been fed, this pair hung around right below the quay, and I was able to look right down on top of them.

This is a Minimalist shot.  There are comparitavely few tones, and the shapes are dominated by the huge, oval mass of the bird’s body, with the neck writhing snake-like back over the closed wing, trying to reach somewhere awkward.  My gaze was attracted to the contrast in shape between the bird as a whole and this sinuous neck.

The bird’s face is hardly seen – just the dark skin around the eyes and the base of the bill – but this is sufficient to give some focus to the shot – and the eye following the sinuous neck back arrives at this small area of black.

I’ve cropped the shot quite closely, so that the bird appears so large that it seems to be bursting out of the frame.  But keeping the dark backdrop up against the right vertical of the frame, and so preserving that soft and beautifully curving breast, was totally mandatory!

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 800 ISO; converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro 2, using the Darken Contrast Vignette as a jumping off point.

UPDATE: very much a long-term favourite of mine, for the reasons given above.  The simplicity of this image is really the thing; Minimalism; less is more.  Looking at it again this morning, my eye is also drawn to those half-seen little bits of plumage detail along the bird’s flank, along the image’s bottom margin.

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