ARCHIVE: LEVELS 88 – SWANS OVER TEALHAM (MONO)


Mute Swans on the wing over the northern edge of Tealham Moor, south of Wedmore; 31 Mar 2014.

These great birds are flying low over typically flat and rough Levels pasture, with the characteristic shapes of pollarded willows – like huge lollipops stuck stick first into the wet ground – immediately behind them.

But further back is a sharp and immediate change in the landscape – much older rocks are sticking up through the flatlands’ wet clays and peats, and there is at once a hillside with houses, tidy fields and sheep.  This is the southern edge of the high ground around Wedmore.

This high ground gives the impression of an island set amongst the Levels’ wetness and, only some hundreds of years ago, not very long ago at all really, this is exactly what these high lands were.

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

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 1600 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Yellowed 2 preset.

SOMERSET LEVELS: SOME KEYWORDS

And finally – some keywords that will often be mentioned in this archive series:

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.



ARCHIVE: LEVELS 80 – LAPWINGS, TEALHAM MOOR


Driving westwards across Tealham Moor, and a long line of birds, high up above, caught my eye.  There was no traffic on the narrow road, so I stopped, watched and waited, wondering where they might be headed.  They came lower and wheeled about overhead, and I saw them to be Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), a type of large plover, that form large flocks in winter.  I started taking pictures.

Here, the flock is flying across in front of a bare, winter tree, and there are a few smaller, darker birds below them, which are Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris).

Compositionally, the flock is almost “resting on top” of the tree, the combination of the birds and tree making a ‘T’ shape within the image.

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

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 300mm (equiv); 800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Provia/Standard film simulation; Tealham Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 30 Nov 2018.

SOMERSET LEVELS: SOME KEYWORDS

And finally – some keywords that will often be mentioned in this archive series:

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.



ARCHIVE: LEVELS 42 – SKYLARKS OVER TEALHAM MOOR

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My latest visit to the Somerset Levels produced something really of note. I was an enthusiastic birder for decades and have had many great experiences with birds – but 28 June 2013 certainly ranks up there with the best in recent years.

The weather was really not summery, with a stiff westerly breeze carrying in intermittent spits and spots of rain from the Bristol Channel, and I’d driven up to the low bridge where the tarmac of Jack’s Drove crosses the North Drain, a sizeable but totally manmade waterway. I walked across the tiny road towards the rough pasture on the other side and, as I got there, a Skylark exploded up from the grass immediately in front of me and, wings flapping frantically to hold its station in the teeth of the cold wind, it rose vertically up into the sky and hung there, right in front of me, singing its head off. If only I’d had the camera ready!

Click onto each photo to open a larger version in a separate window.

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But luckily this was not to be the sole such performance. These little birds are up to 18cm long, bill tip to tail tip – that’s somewhere around 7 inches to you and me – and the simple fact is that I’m staggered by the images I’ve captured. But, make no mistake, this post is not about my photographic prowess, but rather about the D800’s autofocus capabilities, which stun me. And the D700 has the same abilities. There’s no question, but that without these Nikons’ brilliant autofocus, I wouldn’t be able to attempt many of the shots that I do. Manual focus could never keep up with these situations – and the more so with my ageing eyes.

And as I’d forgotten how to use the D800’s 3D autofocus, all of these pictures were taken using a single autofocus point, in gusting wind and spitting rain. I took many, many shots and of course large numbers are complete failures – maybe if I’d got the 3D autofocus working the hit rate might have been higher – there was after all nothing else in the blank sky for the autofocus to latch onto. These images were taken with the long end of my 70-300 zoom using DX format, i.e. at a focal length of 450mm. They are not all sharp, but these few are close enough to it for me

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Skylarks have a special place in my heart. I never fail to be entranced and uplifted by the spectacle of their determined rise up into the heavens, and then their tiny specks soaring at great height over their territories – almost invisible, high up, showering the landscape below with their incessant, fast paced song which (I read in my birdguide) can last for anything up to 15 minutes at time. I regard them as something special in the English landscape, an integral and special part of my homeland – tho realising of course that they can be found all over Europe, where they are summer visitors to the colder parts.

The birds have their beaks open in these photos – they are singing their heads off!

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SOMERSET LEVELS: SOME KEYWORDS

And finally – some keywords that will often be mentioned in this archive series:

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.

ARCHIVE 612 – 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.

Click onto this image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

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

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ARCHIVE 606 – IMMATURE GULLS (MONO)

 

 


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Immature gulls, one of the larger species, probably Herrings or Lesser Black-backeds.

This picture is a mystery and, looking at my records, its been so for a long time.  I have no idea when or where it was taken, or with which camera – but here are these beauties anyway!

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

Technique: processed in Silver Efex Pro, starting at the High Key 2 preset, and toned.
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ARCHIVE 594 – STILL LIFE, IN FLIGHT

 

 


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Black-headed Gull, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 27 Sept 2013.

A still life?  Really?  Well, one way of looking at this is that, since the camera shutter was only open for 1/1600th of a second, it has effectively frozen this instant in the life and doings of this living being – and so it is “Life”, yes, but it is also “Still” – or, more correctly I suppose, “Stilled”!    And living things e.g. plants can of course be included in still life assemblages – if their movements are too slow to register in the resulting image.

But the real reason for my calling this a still life is that when I looked at the whole of this image and saw this powerfully down-sweeping wing, I was struck by its beauty, and so cropped the image to make it the main feature – with the bird’s head just peeping into the picture to add a little context.  So that, ok, it is a bird in flight, a moving object, but to me it has now become more of a design, or a set piece if you like. 

The fundamental difference between this image and a conventional still life is that it is not supported on anything that we can see, like a table top for example.  All support here is provided by the whirling and invisible air.

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

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 400 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 70 – CORMORANT

 

 


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Cormorant leaving its perch and flying off into the sunrise; Lake Nakuru, Kenya; January 1978.

Click onto the “early morning” tag (below) to see more images from the early hours of the day.

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

Technique: Olympus OM-1 or OM-2; and a very quick (and lucky!) grab shot with a 400mm Vivitar telephoto.

UPDATE: a photo that reminds me of cold, clear dawns on the lake edge – yes, cold – although almost on the equator, Lake Nakuru is over a mile above sea level and dawns can be, by Kenyan standards at least, distinctly chilly.  Frosts occur not too far above this, in the mountains.

I forget which colour slide film I used – it might have been Kodak’s High Speed Ektachrome, which attained the dizzy heights of 160 ISO!  And which, if we were really daring, we could have push processed to 640 ISO – heady days indeed!

Sometime back, probably when I first posted this, one viewer remarked upon the similarity between the tree stump’s outspread shape to the bird’s outspread wings – a valuable point.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 26 – SUNRISE OVER STRATUS CLOUD

 

 


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Top of a blanket of stratus cloud, just starting to be illuminated by the rising sun: photographed from an airliner over northern Kenya, inbound for Nairobi, 25 Sept 1979.

With shots from large aircraft, I just set as high a shutter speed as possible (to reduce vibrations from the plane), focused my lens on infinity, brought the lens as close as possible to the window (to minimalise reflections) – and hoped for the best!

Click onto the “early morning” tag (below) to see more images from the early hours of the day.

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

Technique: Olympus OM-2 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 slide film rated at 64 ISO.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 24 – MT KENYA (MONO)

 

 


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Mt Kenya standing proud of a blanket of stratus cloud; photographed from an airliner inbound to Nairobi, 25 Sept 1979.  At 17,057 feet in altitude, this mountain is second in Africa only to Mt Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet), which is just over the border in Tanzania.

The barely seen, ghostly grey shapes in the foreground are the Aberdare (aka Nyandarua) Mountains, a line of volcanoes on the eastern shoulder of the rift valley.    

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

Technique: Olympus OM-2 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 slide film rated at 64 ISO.

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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ARCHIVE KENYA 9 – BOUND FOR KENYA

 

 

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As we take off from Heathrow, bound for Kenya, the incredible Olympus OM-2 calculates the exposure for the image in real time during the shot, and captures the lights of the airport, blurred by the aircraft’s speed, as we climb up into the night sky; September 1979.

I remember the anticipation of returning to Kenya after periods on leave in the UK.  There were photos like the one above, and I always sat on the left of the aircraft to photograph the sunrise.  And then, having been in the UK for a couple of months – even during beautiful summers – there was once more the intense visual excitement of being back in Nairobi, over a mile above sea level and in that incredible, overhead, equatorial sunlight. The colours were blazing, and by contrast the UK seemed somewhere else, on a visually more drab world.

But one thing that the equator doesn’t have are England’s lovely long summer evenings – sunrises and sets are far faster affairs near the equator!  And the rainfall was convectional so that, often, the day would start fine and clear, and clouds could be seen building up all morning, as the harsh sunlight sucked the moisture back up out of the ground >>> only for the whole lot to come back down again as torrential rain during fierce thunderstorms in the afternoons.

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

THE ARCHIVE KENYA SERIES

I’m re-posting photographs that I took in Kenya over 30 years ago.  You can find more context here .  Click onto the “Archive Kenya” tag (below) to see more of these film images from Kenya.

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