Allt yr Esgair views.
02nd October 2017
Allt yr Esgair is a wooded hill near to where I live and the views from the top are panoramic. Two of the best views are looking north west up the Usk Valley towards the Brecon Beacons and north east to Llangors Lake. When you look north west the River Usk can be seen gently meandering through verdant farmland with the Brecon Beacons in the distance, and when looking north east the whole expanse of Llangors Lake is viewed with Mynydd Troed in the background.
Like any landscapes, both these views are light and therefore weather dependant. Blue sky with white clouds I find is the best combination for these two images. Unfortunately grey has been the dominant colour of the skies lately. However, three days ago there was a break in the weather and I took the opportunity to walk up to the top. It takes me roughly forty five minutes to get to the top carrying my photographic kit. On reaching the summit I was alone, it was just me and the view, just the way I like it!
I set up quickly and took a few shots before anyone else arrived because when people get there they tend to stand in the best spot and you can’t shoot any images, after all it’s there for everybody!

Here is the first view looking north west.

Secondly looking north east.

Both these images were obtained using a Circular Polarizer. (the most important filter in anybody's bag when shooting landscapes). These filters cut down reflective glare on water and other surfaces and and also generally enrich a scene. Also used was an ND graduated filter which balances out the exposure between sky and land. Using these two filters you can capture and enhance almost any scenes like these. The only other filters I use are ND filters for slowing down water and accentuating cloud movement.
Don't forget RAW is best!
The image of me on the home page looking out from the top of Allt yr Esgair was taken with the same filters. I positioned my camera and lens looking up the valley, focussing on the rocks and not the background scene, I switched off the Lens's auto focus to prevent 'focus hunting' and then stood on the rocks and shot the image using an IR remote trigger.
Capturing these images is easy, anyone can do it, the only thing that's required is to get out and walk.
Woodpecker for breakfast.
23rd September 2017
Yesterday morning as I was standing in my kitchen eating a slice of toast for breakfast I looked out of the back window and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a Green Woodpecker looking back at me. We have seen them in the garden from time to time digging for ants (their favourite food), but they are very wary birds. There is a seasonal stream in my garden that starts running after heavy rain, usually in December and the banking of this little stream can be soft and this is where these Woodpeckers like to dig and probe for ants and grubs. I immediately put my toast down and got a lens out of my equipment storage cupboard, I rested it on the window sill and took a few shots, more in hope than expectation. Photographing through double glazing while trying to eat a slice of toast at the same time isn’t a recommended method for getting sharp shots. However, it was a good record of a very nice but somewhat elusive bird. There are a number of ant-hills further up this stream bed and I’ll be prepared to bet that these birds spend some time up there looking for ants. I will be keeping an eye open over the autumn to see if I’m correct.

A visit to Dunraven Bay.
18th September 2017
Susan and I felt like a trip to the coast this week and Sunday was forecasted to be a nice day and indeed the weather forecast proved to be correct and we drove down to Dunraven Bay in South Glamorgan. This bay and beach is part of the ‘Glamorgan Heritage Coast’ and we enjoyed a lovely few hours walking on the cliffs in the fresh sea air. Dunraven bay is in a very picturesque setting indeed, and actually there are two bays one being an SSSI site which can only be reached down some steep steps and is therefore little visited. Both these bays have dramatic and vertiginous cliffs and the views are spectacular to say the least. We enjoyed a picnic lunch while taking in these dramatic views and it was a very pleasant and most enjoyable few hours.

Some of the views below;

All images taken with;
Canon ID Mk 2
Canon 17-40 f4 lens
Manfrotto 055 CX3 Tripod
Manfrotto MH XPRO Tilt and Pan head
Canon remote cable release
Hoya circular polarizing filter
Hitech Format system filter holder
Hitech 0.3 (1-Stop), soft edged ND Graduated filter.
Llyn Brianne, the most viewed image.
18th September 2017
The most viewed photograph on this website is a view of Llyn Brianne reservoir in Mid-Wales. It is streets ahead of anything else and for whatever reasons I can’t imagine why. I didn’t and still don’t think it’s a particularly eye catching image, in fact I think it’s quite subdued and that’s fine because I just stopped the car when we were travelling through the area in 2007 and just took the shot. It was taken with a Canon 350D, their first digital DSLR on the market and just a wide angled kit lens, no polarizing filter etc.
Here is the image which was shot in Jpeg format.

Ten years later, (last Saturday), we drove up to that same spot, it’s in the back end of nowhere on a bleak mountain road that skirts the reservoir. However, I wanted to see what I could do with the same view, but using some thought, technique and a filter or two, because basically it has hardly changed except for the extra tree growth etc.
Here is the new image which was shot in RAW format.

It has been processed from Raw to Tiff allowing much more detail to be saved, I recommend always shooting in RAW!
I used a Hoya circular polariser to remove any reflective glare off the water and also a 3 stop (0.9) soft edged ND Graduated filter made by Hitech Format, a company here in Wales. The “ND Grad” was used because the sky was much lighter than the surrounding land. This evens out the exposure and prevents either the sky from “Blowing” or the land from being too dark. It was a lot cloudier this time and this also gave the image a more dramatic look.
Canon 1D MK 2
Canon 17-40 f4
Manfrotto 055 CX3 Tripod
Manfrotto MH XPRO three way tilt and pan head.
Canon remote cable release
Hoya Circular Polarizer
Hitech Format filter system holder
Hitech Format 0.9 (3-stop), soft edged ND Graduated filter

Here is a view of the overflow - same set-up.

A Pano of the Reservoir, (Two image stitch).

A flooded River Usk.
15th September 2017
I have decided to pull the plug on my Kingfisher site on the River Usk for this year, the weather since mid-July has been dreadful. The river is swollen continually and the usual secluded section of the river where these birds fish and also sometimes breed is flooded right out. They along with the Dippers, whose rocky areas are completely submerged, are really struggling through this period of horrendous weather. They are both having to find backwaters that are a little calmer and these are few and far between. I went down to the river early yesterday morning to retrieve my flower pots filled with concrete, (see previous blog, photographing Kingfishers), and my perches that I have hidden away. I was carrying my Canon 600 and a tripod just in case there was anything about in the distance. I put them down on the river bank safely away from the flood and waded into the river to the hidden place where I hide my perches etc, but to my surprise and dismay I couldn’t get near them although I was wearing wellingtons, I was ten feet from them and the river level was at the top of my wellies. This was a problem because I didn’t want to leave them there over the winter because I’m sure they would be swept away. There was only one alternative, I came back out of the river and took my wellies and socks off, rolled my trousers right up as far as I could and waded barefoot into the river. It is surprising how cold the water is, even in September, I also took two small fallen branches in with me to act as balancing aides because the current was so strong. I can say with confidence that I would have over-balanced without those branches to counteract the flow of water. With great difficulty I retrieved my paraphernalia and made my way back to the sanctuary of the river bank and I have to admit I was quite relieved to be back on dry land!
I dried my legs and feet with some kitchen roll that I always keep in my bag and got my wellies back on, it’s very comforting to have your footwear reinstated, somehow you feel vulnerable in bare feet. I sat down on a log under some willows to drink a cup of coffee and to just see if anything came along. After about ten minutes I heard very large wing beats above me and to my surprise a Mute Swan flew low overhead and then landed about a hundred yards up river. I knew it would have to come back down river because of the strength of the current and sure enough it drifted towards me. There was a small recess of calm water under an overhanging canopy just slightly up-river on the opposite bank to me. The Swan gratefully made for this calm and just floated around in there away from the current. However, it is quite dark under there but the sun was shining strongly on the bird. I have had this scenario with Kingfishers in the past and it allows a photographer to deliberately under-expose the scene. This has the effect of correctly exposing the Swan (in this example) and really darkening the already darkish background. This can be very effective because you then have a white bird like a Swan contrasting against an almost black background.

I made two trips to my car to load my kit, perches etc and left the river until next spring.
Changing of the Seasons.
08th September 2017
The weather is definitely changing, you can feel a slight chill in the air in the mornings lately, this is not a bad thing from an ornithological point of view. Birds sense this changing of the seasons and it encourages them to move, migrating to more suitable climates. The Wryneck passage has already started with a good number of birds sighted on the south coast of the UK. These enigmatic birds also move down the west coast of the UK in September and sometimes if there is a big westerly ‘blow’ they can be seen in-land seeking shelter.

We hardly ever see them in the Beacons though and that is a shame because they are one of my favourite birds. Also at this time of year Dotterel, another favourite of mine are heading back south after breeding up north and they can turn up on the Beacons at this time of year.

We always have a few Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs in our front garden this time of year and this year has been no exception. I don’t know why this happens but I’m not complaining. Bullfinches and Redstarts again bred in the garden but the two young Redstarts that were around the house have now disappeared, I hope they have a safe journey.
However, my thoughts always turn to Norfolk at this time of year because it can be a very exciting time birding there if the winds blow from the north east, in these wind conditions anything can turn up and I have had many memorable birding days there in the autumn over the last thirty years-
Long Eared Owls,

Short Eared Owls

and Hen Harriers all coming in off the sea. Two thousand Goldcrests landed on the north coast one weekend, totally exhausted feeding on grass seed along the beaches. Warblers dripping off the trees, Pallas's, Dusky, Raddes, Barred, Yellow Browed, Humes, Artic, Greenish etc etc. Unfortunately though this year I can’t make my autumn pilgrimage there because I have other plans of which I am quite excited about.
This summer in the UK, birding has had a distinctly Mediterranean feel about it, with Little Bitterns,

Cattle Egrets, Squacco Herons,

Bee Eaters,

Red Footed Falcons

and the now ‘common place’ Great White Egret, how quickly we become blasé about birds that were not so long ago a ‘Twitch’. These birds exemplify a visible shift northwards of many species as our climate grows milder and wetter.
Conversely will birds like Ring Ouzel start breeding further north?

Will birds like Brambling, Fieldfare and Redwing come as far south as in previous years? These are changing times for many species and it will be interesting to see how they adapt.
Locally it has been the usual quiet late summer for birds and my interests have turned to insects, Butterflies and Dragonflies in particular and they are very fascinating but now autumn is virtually upon us and hopefully there will be more birds around. There was a report of a Juvenile Marsh Harrier with green wing tags around a local reed bed this week, (Llangors Lake) and yesterday morning I went out early to try and see it because they don’t come around here too often. I had been waiting for over two hours with nothing much seen except two fly-by Hobbies and I was on the brink of leaving when suddenly it appeared, as usual from nowhere. Luckily I had my little Sigma contemporary lens waiting on a bean-bag and I was able to get a few quick record shots before it disappeared from view. This bird, however, was a different bird, no wing tags and another Juvenile, so we now have two Marsh Harriers locally which is very good for this area. Let’s hope they over-winter and give some more photographic opportunities.

The versatility of the Sigma 150-600 C lens.
09th August 2017
I am now using the Sigma 150 – 600 F5.6 – 6.3 Contemporary lens as my walk around lens, (see equipment reviews), it superceded my Canon ef 300 f4 lens for this purpose, the Canon was a great lens but it was just too short on focal length. Despite its focal length this Sigma lens can be just hung over your shoulder or put on a lightweight monopod when walking and is ready for action at short notice. It is better in many ways than a big and sometimes heavy prime lens because of its convenience. The primes will ultimately produce better image quality but by the time you have removed the prime lens from a bag and put it on a tripod the moment has usually passed.
I cannot praise this Sigma lens highly enough, I am genuinely impressed with its performance and for such a small lightweight and quite inexpensive lens to produce such good images is a great credit to Sigma. Yesterday I was out walking on one of the rare fine days we have had this summer and butterflies were starting to fly in the relatively warm sunshine. I was able to move around quickly to get the best angles because butterflies rarely pitch where you want them to and this allowed me to get many images that wouldn’t have been possible with a heavier and more cumbersome prime. This lens autofocuses at 2.88 metres so you can stand back from insects like butterflies and not disturb them while zooming in to 600mm to get the shot.
It is no surprise to me that this lens and its heavier cousin the 150-600 Sports version are big sellers. If you want to obtain quality images on a very reasonable budget then this is the lens for you.

This Peacock butterfly taken with ; Canon 7D ii with Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens @ 600mm @F6.3 - 320/sec. (Hand held)!
Demoiselles on the River Arrow.
06th August 2017
Yesterday Susan and I were driving in Herefordshire and on our journey back home we thought we’d stop off at the very picturesque village of Eardisland. This is a very nice village with some lovely quaint old cottages leaning at odd angles and the village is part of what is called the ‘Black and White’ trail. Named so because of the design and decoration of the old black and white cottages that can be found in these villages. This is a very nice part of the country and driving the above ‘Trail’ is a most pleasant day out.
The beautiful River Arrow meanders slowly through this area and in Eardisland it can be viewed from a bridge at the end of the village where it gently flows under Weeping Willows in a very attractive setting. Standing on this bridge for half an hour you will probably see a Kingfisher, because this stretch of river is prime habitat for these beautiful birds with foliage overhanging slow moving water teeming with small fish.
However, the main reason for our visit to Eardisland was to see the Odonata, and near the aforementioned Weeping Willows on the Arrow is a favourite haunt of principally the Beautiful and sometimes the Banded Demoiselle. The weather was grey and overcast when we arrived and these insects like sunshine so we went for a cup of coffee until the clouds lifted. After about half an hour the sun came out and shortly after, right on cue, the Demoiselles appeared.

First on the wing were the Beautiful Demoiselles;

These insects fly from late April until early September and they favour streams and rivers with gravelled edges with dappled shade.

Then we spotted a pair of Banded Demoiselles;

These near relatives of the Beautiful Demoiselles favour slower moving streams and rivers with a muddy sediment and they are often found in meadows near open banksides.
Both these insects are almost 50mm in length with the Hind wings about 35mm and are the UK's largest Demoiselles.

Both these superb insects looked stunning in the dappled sunlight and we enjoyed watching them flitting back and fore along the river bank.

There was also the added bonus of a Blue Tailed Damselfly.

This insect is so small and delicate it was barely visible as it flew from leaf to leaf. It was a very pleasant couple of hours spent in lovely surroundings and is well worth a visit.

All images taken with a Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens.
Black Mountains under threatening skies.
29th July 2017
The Black Mountains are nowhere near as popular as the Brecon Beacons for walkers, however they still attract many people to their easily accessible tops. Susan and I took a drive from Crickhowell, up past Llanbedr on to Fforest Coal Pit, through the Llanthony valley taking in Cwmyoy Church, Llanthony Priory, Capel y Ffin Church and finally up and over the Gospel Pass to Hay on Wye. Many people still travel to see these sights and rightly so because the Black Mountains are different to the Beacons, there is more history there, in particular from a religious point of view. Many ecclesiastical establishments were built throughout this valley, some taking advantage of its solitude for no doubt periods of quiet reflection, Llanthony Priory being a prime example. The monks brewed their beer here and transported it up what is known as the ‘Beer Track’ to the town of Hay on Wye. I’m sure they must have enjoyed a ‘Swift Half’ of an evening when the abbot wasn’t looking!
It is a gentler landscape here, dotted with small hamlets and farms which is quite pleasing on the eye. The area around Hay Bluff is still very popular and we stopped there to take in the superb panorama that that can be viewed basically from the car park. The skies remain grey and threatening this week but that is not all bad for a photograph as it makes an image busier than a plain blue sky. We travelled back and had some lunch on the way in the Bridge End pub in the village of Boughrood pronounced Bochrood. The food was very nice for a pub and made a pleasant change on a Saturday afternoon.

The Gospel Pass leading down into Hay on Wye, this road featured for a long time on the Antiques Road Show.

Dramatic skies from Hay Bluff.

Black Mountaim tops on the left and the Beacons in the distance.

Black Mountaim tops on the left and the Beacons in the distance.

All taken with;
Canon 1D Mk 2
Canon 17-40L F4 lens
Manfrotto 055 Tripod
Manfrotto MHX PRO 3 Way Tilt and Pan Head
Canon remote shutter release
Hoya circular polarizing filter
Format Hitech - 0.9 ; (3 Stop) ; Soft edged graduated ND Filter
Allt yr Esgair on a stormy day.
16th July 2017
Known locally as the ‘Allt’, Allt yr Esgair is a hill roughly about 390 metres high. It is easily found on the outskirts of the village of Bwlch, seven miles south of Brecon. Translated into English as something like ‘The Wooded Ridge’ it has become popular with walkers and unfortunately mountain bikers, (who I think shouldn’t be allowed up there). The path leading up and across to the summit reaches a Roman hill fort and is part of an old Roman way between the towns of Abergavenny and Brecon and the views from the top are quite panoramic overlooking two separate valleys. Yesterday Susan and I walked up to the top, we live nearby and it only takes about forty five minutes to reach the summit. We walked up the path under leaden skies and at the summit the wind was quite blustery and a few squally rain showers swept through albeit briefly. I carried my landscape kit in a photographic rucksack just in case there was an opportunity for a few shots, however, I was not hopeful. On reaching the top we had to shelter briefly as one of these squalls whipped through but afterwards the weather was reasonable and we were able to enjoy some nice view of the Usk valley and Llangors Lake. We didn’t see many people and had the summit to ourselves for some time which is always nice. This is a rare thing these days in the Brecon Beacons where outdoor pursuits has exploded and areas like Pen y Fan are to be avoided at all costs. I often think back and remember a pioneering mountain man who lived in Merthyr Tydfil his name was Hadyn Thomas and he introduced me to mountain walking forty years ago when it was considered very unfashionable, unlike today. If Hadyn was alive today he would be a hundred but sadly he passed away some time ago. He was a proper walker he didn’t drive his car to a convenient parking place and then walk the mountains, he always walked from home, saying if you’re walking you’re walking - no car! I can’t imagine what he would have thought about the amount of people walking the Beacons today.

A view of Llangors Lake, the largest natural lake in South Wales.Taken from Allt yr Esgair. Mynydd Troed in the background.

The River Usk meandering beneath storm clouds near the village of Scethrog. Taken from the rocks near the summit of Allt yr Esgair.

Storm clouds over Craig Dan y Wenallt near the popular village of Talybont on Usk. It’s easy to get caught out by these fast moving storms and many ill - prepared people are these days.

Usk Valley panorama taken fron Allt yr Esgair.
Early morning on the River Usk.
14th July 2017
It’s been a disappointing spring and early summer for the Kingfishers at a site I monitor down on my local River, the Usk. There has only been one male bird there all throughout this period and that is unusual because this particular stretch of river is a prime habitat for them consisting of slow moving water and plenty of overhanging trees like Willows, which Kingfishers have a likeing for. Earlier this week I was out very early on the river just to see what was around and sitting in my portable hide I could see the same male Kingfisher flying up and down the river about every twenty minutes or so, normal behaviour for him this year. After two hours with very little happening a juvenile dipper arrived and began feeding on a shingle spit on the opposite side of the river to me but too far for me to photograph it. Suddenly the birds began to alarm call and the Dipper flew across to my side of the river and I took a few shots.

However, I was more concerned about the birds alarm calling. This behaviour usually signals the presence of a predator like a Mink but the undergrowth parted slightly and this cheeky Fox poked his head out.

I have seen it many times on this stretch of the river, an equally deadly predator, but at least one that is part of the UK food chain! It didn’t see me I’m sure, nevertheless it didn’t stay long and disappeared back under cover. I waited a little longer but there was no further activity until the male Kingfisher sped past again but almost immediately he was followed by another Kingfisher also flying past calling. I decided to wait a little longer and I could now hear the tell-tale call again, the second bird flew towards me and landed in a small Ash sapling near to my hide.

I looked through my binoculars and to my delight I could see it was a female, then the male flew past again and she took off after him. I hope this means that they are a pair, I left full of hope and will return sometime in August hopefully to see some youngsters!
Photographing landscape panoramas.
27th June 2017
When stitching photographs together in Photoshop, or indeed any other post processing software, in order to achieve decent panoramas you will have a much higher percentage of success if you pay strict attention to detail when you are taking the shots. This may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but very simple mistakes at this stage will cause the photographer huge and sometimes insurmountable problems at the processing stage.
The first thing to consider is whether the scene or panorama you are looking at is possible to stitch together, don’t forget the human eye is far superior to any camera lens and what you are seeing could be very difficult to recapture on camera.
Secondly pay critical attention to exposure because having two or even three images with different exposures will look false when they are stitched together.
Thirdly always make sure that all the images to be stitched together are level, check your tripod after each exposure because ‘panning’ your tripod head can change the level.
If the above points are not adhered to, then you will have at best, large areas of the stitched image missing at the corners, with parts of the image much darker or lighter than the others and at worst a message saying that the images are not compatible.
There are limits to what software can achieve!
Keeping these factors in mind it is nevertheless a fairly straight forward process to create an impressive panorama. People create these panoramas because they have not got a wide enough lens to capture the scene in one shot and once you go below about 14mm then you are in Fish-eye lens territory and although some photographers like the images produced using these lenses, the images are curved and for me are not realistic, but you pays your money and you takes your chances!

So on to taking the shots:
After setting up your kit looking at the scene to be stitched, establish your aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focal length.
Typically shoot between 30 - 40mm, at f8 / f11 and try and keep your shutter speed down and use if possible a low ISO setting e.g. 100. You can do all this manually, (if you can’t achieve these combinations then just use what you can get away with).
After these settings have been established and the scene is in focus switch the lens to manual focus.
Check that your camera is level and take your first shot, I always pan from left to right, it just feels better for me. Overlap each exposure by about 30% or at a particularly salient point in the scene. Check the camera for level before each exposure!!
Take the exposures as quickly as possible to avoid drastic light changes or even typically someone coming and standing in the scene, it happens!!
Check the histograms on the camera rear screen for reasonably close uniformity.
If you are happy then proceed to the processing stage.

These are three images taken left to right and as you can see they are overlapping by about 30%

In Photoshop CS6;
Go to file / Automate / Photomerge.
Keep the mode on Auto.
Browse the files to be stitched.
Select all the files a click open.
The images will be automatically merged by the programme.
The corners of the image will be missing and will be replaced by chequered shading, this is normal. This is where your previous lack of attention to detail will come back to haunt you. If you have followed the strict guidelines then the missing corners will be small if not they will be huge and will render the image useless.
You can try to adjust the image by clicking custom function and also adjust the image distortion if any but if again you have adhered to detail in the beginning this shouldn’t be necessary.
Click on the crop tool symbol in the tools palette and in the two available boxes type in the ratio which most suits the image, typically 3:1, but do try other combos and you will see that the bigger the difference e.g. 5:1 the more your image will look like it is viewed through a letter box.
Crop the image after choosing the best combo ratio.
Firstly save the image as a PSD (photo shop document).
Then save the image as a copy only, (untick the layers box to do this).
I always save images as TIFF’s because I shoot in RAW.
If you are a Jpeg shooter then Jpeg is the only option.
When you do this you will still retain the stitched image and you can replace one or more sections if necessary.
You are now free to work on the copy image Tiff or Jpeg.
Any blemishes in typically the sky can best be removed using the spot healing brush.
Fill in the corners using the clone stamp tool, again the smaller the areas to clone the easier it is, (attention to detail in the beginning).
Process the image as you would normally.
This is the finished Panorama, it is inevitable that the finished image will be reduced in area, there is no alternative to this. You can choose to crop as little as you like, I felt this 3:1 crop suited the scene.

Obviously this image will be a lot bigger on a full screen.
Whinchats in Cwm Llia, Brecon Beacons.
25th June 2017
I don't visit the Senni valley and Cwm Llia, (Llia valley), very often because although they are very attractive they are unfortunately plagued by outdoor pursuits companies. These people disturb everything with their convoys of mini buses and crowds of people, and wherever they are - I'm not!! Also Maen Llia, (the thought to be Bronze age), standing stone in Cwm Llia is a tourist attraction and once late morning comes traffic builds up and it's time to go!
However, I was passing through this valley a few days ago early in the early morning during the heat-wave we experienced, it was necessary to be out very early before the sun became too strong and ruined the light. I had stopped on the roadside and the only sounds were the birds singing and it was pleasantly mild in the gentle early morning breeze. I thought I could hear a Northern Wheatear calling, nothing surprising there, this is a breeding area for them, but as I looked I could now see it was a Whinchat. These are quite widespread summer migrants to the Uk but I don't see many locally so I was pleased. I stayed in my car and I could now see two birds, male and female, going back and fore an obvious nest - even better!
I shot a few images and drove on twenty or thirty yards not to disturb them, they had a nest in the base of a Hawthorn tree and both birds were taking food in. I'm certain the youngsters will be out very soon so I will probably go back next week 'early' one morning to try and see them, they are pretty little birds.

Wood Warblers.
16th June 2017
If there's one little bird that makes my spring it's the Wood Warbler. This tiny little jewel usually arrives in the Brecon Beacons in late April where they are often overlooked unless you are familiar with their call and song. Their call is a series of single peeping notes which are quite penetrating and their song is the characteristic 'Spinning Coin'. They favour light open areas of Oak and Beech where with patience they can be seen flitting restlessly from branch to branch as they search for insects. For such an arborial bird they unusually make their nests on the ground typically under fallen branches. They are quite difficult to photograph because they are so small and very restless. There is a particular area I visit in May and June where I know they will be present and it has never failed to turn up these lovely little birds. Yesterday I was there early morning and sure enough I could hear their calls and I identified three birds flying around. Exercising a considerable amount of patience I finally managed to get a record shot of what is my favourite spring warbler.

Rufous Bush Chat, Lesvos.
01st June 2017
Another enigmatic bird that has eluded me photographically is the Rufous Bush Chat, now called Rufous Scrub Robin. They can be very elusive indeed just hiding in a patch of scrub or a few bushes and only popping out occasionally to give brief and tantalising views. Along a quiet stretch of track we had seen two birds flying back and fore some bushes a few times as we were driving past. These were obviously a breeding pair, so one afternoon we decided to park under an overhanging tree in the shade to have some lunch, this also gave us a potential opportunity to view them. As we sat there on this quiet track almost falling asleep in the dappled shade. Suddenly - a male bird was on the track twenty yards away, we thought that was the only views we were getting but he came hopping along nearer and nearer until he was only five yards away! We couldn’t believe this bird was behaving like this and I was able to take a few shots of what is normally a very awkward bird.

Please see Latest Images, Lesvos.
Night Herons, Lesvos.
01st June 2017
If there is one bird that I have struggled to get any decent images of on Lesvos it is the Night Heron. This has been frustrating because I must admit to them being my favourite Herons. I have seen many in flight, sometimes up to twenty birds flying back to roost, usually in the very early morning. However, this time I noticed a couple of birds sitting out on branches above the east river, again early in the morning. These lovely but enigmatic birds are mostly active by night and then spend the day communally roosting in the tops of pine tree plantations. They are usually, like any Heron quite shy, and you have to be careful when trying to photograph them or they will just climb further into the undergrowth or even fly away. I could see one bird favouring a particular area on a few mornings so again one morning very early I drove down river and turned around so I was facing the right way and then crawled back up with my lens mounted on a bean bag on the car window sill. I stopped opposite him and switched the engine off, he thankfully tolerated me and I was able to take many shots of him until he decided it was time to fly to roost and off he went, you have to be there early to catch these birds!

Please see Latest Images, Lesvos.
Bee Eaters, Lesvos.
01st June 2017
Every morning we were up at first light and were leaving our hotel for the first port of call which was the Tsiknias or (East river), which is a five minute drive away. Most birders do this to try and see the birds of the river before any disturbance from farmers and other tourists happens.
You don’t know what you are going to see this early and it’s really worth getting up for, we are early birds ourselves anyway and what’s the point of lying in bed on holidays!
On a couple of mornings we could see some European Bee Eaters flying around a particular area and very occasionally they were landing on some nice looking perches on the river bank. With the east river you have to be on a particular side of the river bank in the early morning before the sun gets up and makes the light too harsh. Therefore, one morning we were in place in the car right opposite these perches before anyone was around and to be fair there weren’t many people around anyway because it is considered late to be in Lesvos for birding. We waited for a while until the Bee Eaters began to fly after the airborne insects and luckily a bird flew around a couple of times and then landed right in front of us. It didn’t last long but just enough to get a few frames off capturing this beautiful bird, if you are tired of Bee Eaters then you must be tired of life!!

Please see Latest Images, Lesvos.
Lesvos 2017.
01st June 2017
We’ve just returned from a mini break in Lesvos, although the bird migration was essentially over, and we knew that prior to leaving, there were still some nice birds to see.
After a very eventful journey there enduring airport delays caused by a passenger and then a nightmare drive through Mytilini avoiding Kamikaze pizza delivery riders and compounded by a really badly designed one way system we finally arrived in darkness at our hotel around 22.00. Our flight times were not the most amenable anyway but delays on top are most unwelcome!
We didn’t seek out any birds in particular we just visited different areas of the island and took what came along. The weather was superb with wall to wall sunshine every day and we spent the week in shorts and tee shirts basking in 30+ C sunshine. At this time of year, however, you have to be up at first light to take advantage of the mellow light and the birds because by 11.00 it is too hot to bird and the sun is too strong for taking any decent shots. After this time we became regular tourists and just chilled out driving around and stopping at little tavernas for lunch etc. We returned to our hotel by mid-afternoon and had a rest on the balcony before strolling down to the local harbour to enjoy a nice dinner and a glass or two of the local wines and beers in the many restaurants and bars.
Please see the trip reports section.
Musings on a rainy day.
15th May 2017
While briefly browsing one of the birding websites earlier today I was really surprised to read that large amounts of birders/photographers have been travelling long distances to photograph a Common Cuckoo. This bird is located at a place called Thursley Common in West Sussex and apparently it is showing itself quite well. Incredibly one man travelling on a 230 mile round trip to photograph the bird. Other ‘Birders’ were saying they had never seen a Cuckoo, with one woman declaring that she had never heard one!!
When I read accounts like this I really begin to question what these people are doing in this hobby. As a birder if you can’t find a Common Cuckoo in May in the UK then you need to try harder. I accept, however, that photographing these birds can be difficult and herein lies the problem. This new breed of birders/photographers are not prepared to try and find their own birds, they want everything put on a plate in front of them! It's little wonder that people are vague about their findings and in particular their locations. In reality all it takes is for someone to get up at first light, stake out a likely Cuckoo territory, watch for a couple of hours to see what the bird’s favourite perches are and then return in the next few days and wait in a hide until hopefully the bird perches in a photographically suitable position and if it doesn't - then try again!

Unfortunately these days people would rather search the wildlife blogs, websites and other social media platforms for other people’s findings and then capitalise on their hard work. They are in fact a human form of Cuckoo themselves. I wouldn’t mind so much if they showed some sort of humility towards the hobby, instead they just see this behaviour as the norm. Please read one of my previous blogs on the appalling behaviour and attitude of the man in the Forest of Dean. I am not saying the people going for this Cuckoo are badly behaved but they are still typical of modern birding/photography, they are just plain trophy hunters.

Kingfishers are another subject that gets me going, people would rather pay £100 to go to a set-up site than get out and find birds on their local river etc.

I’m all for sharing rare bird’s info when it comes around, we all want to see those but come on, ‘Birders’ should at least try and find some of their own birds!!
I think the rain is stopping, I must get out more and find some birds, LOL.
A cold spring morning on the River Usk.
10th May 2017
I have been wondering how the Kingfishers have been getting on down on the river Usk near Brecon. I haven’t seen them since last autumn but it has been a mild and quite dry winter so I was hopeful they were OK. I was up at 04.30 yesterday on a clear and very cold morning with that nagging north east wind still refusing to release its grip.
I had packed all my gear into my car’s boot the night before to save time and after a quick breakfast I was on my way by 05.00. I arrived at the Kingfisher site by 05.30 and set my hide up on the river bank under some overhanging willows. I have a store of perches I keep at the river and I just dug one of them into the river bed and retreated under cover. I was very glad I had put on a couple of extra layers because it was so cold. The sun came up over the horizon and illuminated the river with a bright early morning light but although quite harsh the sunshine contained very little warmth. I zipped up all the side openings on my hide leaving only the forward aperture to look at my perch in the river.
An hour passed and I was huddled in the chair of my hide drinking a cup of coffee when I thought I’d just open one of the side flaps for a minute to look up river. In the distance I could see a large shape break the surface of the river. My first thoughts of a large fish were quickly dispelled as I could now see two Otters playing in the middle of the river. I was side on to them so I knew there wouldn’t be much chance of a photograph without disturbing them by turning the whole hide ninety degrees clockwise so I opted for a quick shot at an awkward angle and cut my losses.

I then watched as they swept past me hardly breaking the surface of the water and within a few seconds they were gone down river and out of sight. A great start to the day, any day you see Otters is a good day!
I settled back down and after some time I could now hear the familiar ‘Peeping’ of a Kingfisher as a bird flashed past my hide at speed and disappeared around the river bend. This is typical Kingfisher behaviour and this was repeated several times over the next half an hour. At this time of year the first brood of Kingfishers should be very close to fledging, typically early May, and this is what I was hoping to see, however, if there are any young birds at this site they do not appear to be out yet. There are a few reasons for this, the adults may just have been late pairing-up or indeed they may not have mated, I hope it’s the former.
Sometime later I was eating a sandwich and again looking out of the side flap on my hide when I could see a female Goosander and her young coming this time up-river, and some of the ducklings were sitting on her back to avoid paddling against the current.

This is the first time I have witnessed Goosanders doing this. It was a lovely sight because the ducklings are very cute indeed. They swam past totally oblivious of me, if you are not under cover you won’t get near these birds because they are so shy.
I was about to leave the site when I heard a Kingfisher call again and then suddenly there was an adult bird on the perch. It happens like this with Kingfishers, you hear a brief call and suddenly they are on your perch, sometimes there is no call and they just appear, you have to keep looking. This can be quite tiring over a period of hours because if you don’t concentrate all of the time you can miss the shot for the sake of a few seconds. It was an adult bird and I took the shot quickly before it flew off,

there should be more action as the breeding season unfolds if there are youngsters fledged. I packed-up and left as the day had turned quite warm, what a contrast from first thing.
I am going to leave it for a few weeks and then come back and see if there are any young Kingfishers around, I hope so.