BIRDS 111 – LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL

 

 


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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 enlarge it further – recommended.

Lesser Black-backed Gull – giving me quite a fixed stare!  The medium to pale grey upperwings are typical of this bird, and the dark markings on the white head appear in winter.

This is one of the common, larger gulls in the UK, being found around coasts and lakes, and also as a scavenger in towns.  I grew up alongside gulls in a seaside town and have always liked them and viewed them as a normal part of the landscape, but many think otherwise, both because of the mess that these birds can make around human habitation, and for their sometimes aggressive behaviour.  Walking around south Bristol, taking photographs for this blog’s Outer Suburbs series, I sometimes have these gulls come down to have a look at me, but as I’m never carrying/eating any food there’s no problem – although I do always invite them to come down and try their luck – if they’d like a spot of bother, that is …

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in APS-C mode to give 450mm; 800 ISO; spot metering; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Neutral v2 profile; Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 18 Oct 2019.
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BIRDS 110 – MUTE SWAN

 

 


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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 – recommended.

An adult Mute Swan rests beside the waters of Chew Valley Lake, Somerset – while keeping a watchful eye on me!  It was a stormy day, dark clouds, rain and bright sunshine following each other in quick succession, and I was drawn by the way the light washed over this bird, creating shadows and highlighting textures.  Adult swans have white plumage, but this one’s head and neck are tinged pale brown due to the bird up-ending in the lake’s muddy waters when feeding, and the underparts are also slightly darkened.

This is the swan commonly found in many parts of the UK, sometimes becoming semi-tame – as here – around inland waters and also harbours.  Two other species of swan are wilder and less common winter visitors.

Birds are big with me >>>  I was a highly committed birder 1967-2002 and, while a photographer of many things now, I have never lost my love for our feathered friends.  In this instance though, that love is tinged with respect: these swans can weigh up to 11.5 kgs (25 lbs) and have wingspans up to 2.2m (over 7 feet), and they can on occasion be distinctly aggressive.

One of the many fairy tales (aka imagined realities) that help provide the foundation of Our Great Nation is that all swans belong to the monarch.  Well, maybe there is actually some piece of legal paperwork somewhere stating just that, but having fairies at the bottom of my garden seems an eminently more realistic and desirable alternative.  However, for those believing differently, I do have an exciting range of bridges for sale/lease.

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in APS-C format to give 450mm; 800 ISO; spot metering; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Neutral v2 profile; Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 18 Oct 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 419 – THE OLD PIER (MONO)

 

 

1: Weston’s Old Pier, falling to pieces day by day;  In the background, on the far side of the Bristol Channel, is the coast of south Wales; and at upper left the island of Flat Holm, with its prominent lighthouse.  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.  There is another recent picture of Flat Holm here.

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This is a sad story, and one that revolves surely around money, The Great God Cash.  In my youth, there were two working piers at Weston-super-Mare, the larger and more modern one – the Grand Pier – on the main part of the seafront that all visitors see, and a smaller and older one – the Old Pier (aka Birnbeck Pier) – further away to the north.  When I was a boy, Birnbeck was a fully working pier, with an amusement arcade and a RNLI lifeboat station (the slipway of which can be seen in the left forefront of the pier’s buildings), and Campbells pleasure steamers used to call in here, taking day trippers on voyages around the Bristol Channel and the coast of south Wales.  This pier was built in Victorian times and is apparently unique in linking a small island to the mainland, whereas most piers just reach out into the sea.

But the Old Pier suffered from competition with the larger and more modern Grand Pier, while also being affected by the decrease in popularity that has affected most of Britain seaside holiday towns – the heyday of the seaside family holiday has long gone, and the Old Pier is now in a totally ruinous state.

It has been on national At Risk architectural registers for sometime and regeneration plans have been made, but so far nothing has been done.  The Local Authority has now ordered the owners to repair the structure, but the case in contested – leaving the structure to continue decaying, to continue simply falling apart.

Technique (all images): Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens; 1600 or 3200 ISO and high shutter speeds, to counteract buffeting by the wind;  in-camera processing of raw files using the Graphite profile, with further processing in Lightroom in some cases; the Old Pier, seen from Upper Kewstoke Road, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset; 4 Oct 2019.
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2: The decaying decking on the main part of the pier – a death trap! – with a narrow corridor of maintained decking, for access by service personnel,  between the white railings on the left.

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3: The whole site now cordoned off behind safety barriers.

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4: The partially collapsed North Landing Pier, at which pleasure steamers used to call for day trippers.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 418 – THE ROAD BEHIND THE BEACH (MONO)

 

 

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A wet and windy morning, where the Somerset Levels run down to the sea at Sand Bay, just north of Weston-super-Mare.  This is the little road, scarcely wider than my little car, that runs along behind the beach.  There are puddles from the morning’s rain, bright yellow lines along the road’s edge that ban stopping – because any vehicle that stops here immediately blocks the road (its hardly rocket science!) – and there is the tree arched over the road that bears testimony to the strong westerly gales that often batter this low and very exposed coast.  The actual beach is off beyond the large bank on the right, while low, flat farmland stretches inland from the road’s left.

This image is best viewed enlarged – click onto it to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

This little road appears insignificant, but it has great significance to me.  For it was along here, probably around 1960 or so, that three of us keen amateur geologists rode on our bikes, making our first ever “geological expedition”, to collect samples of the brachiopods, corals and other fossils from Sand Point, the long promontory of Carboniferous Limestone that is behind the camera.

And later, in 1967-8, when birding had infected my very soul, it was along this road that our two highly enthusiastic biology teachers brought us out in the school minibus very early on Saturday mornings, to look at the birdlife.  I remember those two teachers – now long dead of course – with a lot of affection and admiration.  They were enthusiastic, they communicated their enthusiasm to us youngsters, and they contributed their spare time putting us in touch with – and getting us interested in  – the Natural World.  One of us (not me!!!) went on to become a Professor (in the British sense) of Biochemistry and, old as they then were, the surviving member of this biological duo, together with the Prof’s old chemistry teacher, actually attended the professorial inauguration ceremony >>> that everyone should have such dedicated and enthusiastic teachers!

And finally, also, far more recently, Sand Bay was the subject of my very first and rather uncertain post on FATman Photos, on 26 April 2011 – that post can be found here .

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 70mm; 3200 ISO; in-camera raw processing and cropping; Beach Road, Sand Bay, north of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset; 4 Oct 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 417 – WILLOW 4 (MONO)

 

 


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These images are certainly best viewed enlarged – click onto each of them to open a larger version in a separate window and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

Pollarded willow, old and leaning precariously, beside the River Sheppey in Swanshard Lane.  These are mono versions of a previously posted colour image – see 3 below.

Technique:  these images, both captured by the Nikon Z 6, have been created in two different ways.  The one above was produced by in-camera processing of a raw file, using the camera’s Graphite picture control, and no further processing in Lightroom.  The one below was via the “traditional route”, i.e. via Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro 2,  using the latter’s Landscape preset.   They’re similar, but I have to say – purely subjectively of course – that I prefer the in-camera processing.  My reasons?  Well I think that the lower one is a bit too grey, with too many of the leaves visible; whereas the upper one has more of the leaves and branches burnt out, so focusing more attention on the gnarled trunk.  Which, if any, do you prefer???
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There are other Willow portraits here: 1 2 3 .

There is more about the ancient practice of pollarding here .

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SOMERSET LEVELS 416 – LIGHTHOUSE (MONO)

 

 


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The lighthouse on Flat Holm island in the Bristol Channel, on a stormy day.  In the background, the coast of south Wales.

The Somerset Levels run out westwards into the sea – into the Bristol Channel in fact – and on this low coast are two rather cheap and cheerful seaside towns, Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea.  The heyday of the family seaside holiday is long past, and both of these towns are rather feeling the economic pinch.  This coast is notable for having the second highest tidal range in the world – 43 feet (13 m) – and also for the fact that, since the Bristol Channel is in fact the estuary of the River Severn, in addition to some nice sandy beaches there are also vast amounts of glutinous estuarine mud – Weston-super-Mud being the rather unkind jibe.

But Weston is also notable to me for another reason: it is my home town, the place of my youth, some of it altered out of all recognition now of course, but still filled with a vast and undying store of memories.

And so to a visit there on a wet and windy day – its only 20 miles or so from Bristol.  And standing high above the sea, bracing myself against the gale, I looked out over the seascape of my youth.  There in the murk was Flat Holm island, not a part of Somerset (or even of England) at all, but rather the most southerly point of Wales.  A sudden break in the overcast, a fleeting moment of sunlight, and I managed several frames.

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 at 300mm; 1600 ISO; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Graphite profile; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Neutral preset; looking west from Upper Kewstoke Road, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset; 4 Oct 2019.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 415 – EARLY MORNING 19 (MONO)

 

 


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A stormy morning, and Westhay Moor Drove – one of the many dead straight roads in this relatively recently created, lowland landscape – makes off eastwards towards the wild sky of the sunrise.

Other images in this Early Morning series – from both rural and urban settings, and from Kenya too – are here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 .

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

Technique: X-T2 with 10-25 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); 200 ISO; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Acros+R profile; Westhay Moor Drove, Westhay Moor, on the Somerset Levels southeast of Wedmore; 9 Aug 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 414 – SPIDER ON A BRIDGE

 

 


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A life spent hanging from the girders of Eastern Moor Bridge, a narrow structure crossing Cripps River on Liberty Moor.

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

Techniques: upper image – Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens; 1000 ISO; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Portrait v2 profile;  lower image – X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens; 200 ISO; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Astia Soft profile; Eastern Moor Bridge on Liberty Moor, on the Somerset Levels east of East Huntspill; 2 Aug 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 413 – WILLOW 3

 

 


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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 – recommended.

Pollarded willow, old and leaning precariously, beside the River Sheppey in Swanshard Lane.

And to me there is something human here, someone leaning with arms outstretched, though whether perhaps performing gracefully in some dance or ballet – or distraughtly in pain, anguish or panic, I cannot say.

There are other Willow portraits here: 1 2 .

There is more about the ancient practice of pollarding here .

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 82mm; 6400 ISO; spotmetering for high key effect; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Portrait v2 profile; Swanshard Lane, on the Somerset Levels southwest of Wells; 13 Sept 2019.
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PEOPLE 374 – VERY OLD FRIENDS (MONO)

 

 


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Life moves on.  As Dylan Thomas so wonderfully put it, in Under Milk Wood, “Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes.”

And so to an Italian restaurant in a reasonably run down, seaside town, and five people around a table – already hitting the electric sauce, if only moderately, and good naturedly corralling a waiter into taking a snap of the occasion.  He was somewhat disconcerted by “Focus on the wine bottle!”.  While after “Squeeze yourself right back into that corner to get us all in!”, it had to be explained that we were not in fact all planning to try and get in the corner with him.  Ah, the youth of today …  But, anyway, here is the result.

So just who are these smiling worthies?  Well, as a landmark, something to navigate by when in distress on the sea, the lolling lout front right (magnified by proximity to the TG-5’s wide angle lens I might add) is me >>> does my tum look big in this??? 

Then the two women are the partners of the two blokes opposite me.

But the two blokes opposite me are the thing really, because we three were in the same school in the 1960s.  I’ve been friends with one nearest the camera for 60 years at least, we were in adjacent primary schools.  And the other is one of the two luminaries responsible for getting me into birdwatching in 1967, an interest that was to later take me to Kenya for 12 wonderful years – an experience from which, thank goodness, I’ve never quite recovered.

And although three of us live locally, the other very special thing about this occasion is that the other couple live on the other side of the world, so that we see them only very occasionally.

And so here we three are, back in our home town as it happens, and not a stone’s throw from the primary schools where two of us started out.  And we are all stunned by the fact that, having known each other since our childhoods, we are now all approaching our 70th birthdays.

“Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes.”
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