News

Difficult times for a local Barn Owl.
08th February 2016
At the moment there is a Barn Owl living nearby, it is roosting and hunting in the surrounding fields near Llangors Lake. However, with this appalling spell of weather forecast to continue life is becoming very difficult indeed for this lovely bird. I have watched it being blown about by strong winds and upset by squally showers making hunting a very difficult task. If these birds get wet it is estimated that their body weight can increase by an incredible seventy percent! This is really bad news because Barn Owls depend on the large surface area of their wings in combination with their small body weight to fly very slowly and still keep on the wing, this is essential for efficient hunting. Increased body weight and wet wings removes both of these fundamental hunting tools and can lead to starvation and ultimately death. In addition to this, strong gusty winds make it very difficult for them to hear their prey rustling in the grass, negating their most useful hunting aid - Hearing!!
Barn Owls lead a very fragile existence at the best of times so these conditions are a veritable nightmare.
I am really hoping this beautiful and iconic bird can get through this winter.
Here it is flying on one of the very few dry evenings.

Norfolk, Winter 2016.
25th January 2016
We have just returned from a week on the North Norfolk coast, just had to get away from this horrible spell of weather. The whole week was dry and fairly sunny but cold with daytime temperatures staying between two and four celcius. In order to spend any amount of time outside many layers were necessary, espscially near the sea. However, it was infinitely more preferable to the constant rain and gloom we left behind. We stayed in the little cottage we have been using for the last twenty five years, it is so convenient for all the birding on the Norfolk coast. The nearest coast is just a ten minute walk away and there are also some nice places to eat in the village. Although there is a modern central heating system in the cottage I lit a log fire in the evenings which is very comforting after a cold day outside and there is just something about a nice roaring fire. One thing about Norfolk is that it is never birdless and there is always something to see unlike back home in Wales.
We didn't chase around after birds, those days I'm glad to say are gone! We just went for some nice walks and visited the old haunts along the coast. One night we ate out in a pub called the Gin Trap in the nearby village of Ringstead, we have passed this pub countless times over the years but had never gone inside. We should have tried it before because the top notch food and friendly efficient service was superb, we can highly recommend it.
Our bird total was quite modest but the Highlights were; Pallid Harrier, Rough legged Buzzard and Grey Phalarope.
There were two birds that I particularly wanted to see, Tree Sparrow which is very uncommon in the Brecon Beacons and if possible the very elusive Twite, the latter having been a real bogey bird of ours over the years with very few sightings indeed.
In addition it is always a bonus if I can get to photograph a Barn Owl, no visit to Norfolk is complete without a few 'Barny' shots!!
I managed to photograph Tree Sparrow in a place called Flitcham Abbey Farm and this is a place that is well worth a visit just to see the efforts the management have put in to sustain birdlife. Wintering crops and seed barrels are located all arouind the farm and you can hear birds everywhere you go. It's not difficult to achieve, all that's required is the will to do it, and lessons could be learned from this farm.
There had been a wintering flock of Twite in one of the harbours close to our accommodation but although they were seen daily feeding on Sea Lavender seed heads they were always extremely mobile and flighty. In an effort to see them I went to this harbour every evening for an hour for the whole week in an attempt to pin them down and I was very relieved to finally photograph a flock of twenty five birds. These lovely little birds are on the 'Red List' and that is a real shame, I do hope they can recover their numbers soon.
We saw some Barn Owls at our usual locations, however, one day we were driving along and came across an Owl sitting on a post near a rough pasture. It took off as we slowed down to view it but we could see the potential for a photograph immediately. The following day we returned and were tucked into a hedge hopefully waiting for it to hunt, we had some reasonable views as it quartered the pasture and I'm pleased to say I managed a few half decent photographs.
All in all it was a very enjoyable week away and it helps to break up the gloomy weather back home.
Please see Latest Images Norfolk 2016.
Short Eared Owls.
16th December 2015
2015 has been a good breeding year for Short Eared Owls. In certain years when the rodent populations in Scandinavia have an 'Explosion' there is consequently a massive increase in food for these lovely birds. Some of these birds migrate to the UK because of the harsh winter conditions in these northern countries and end up typically on coastal marshes where the temperatures can be relatively mild and rodent populations are healthy.
This week I met up with a friend of mine on some marshland on the outskirts of Cardiff, this area has been historically a good wintering area for these Owls.
We set up behind some Camo netting strung up on poles underneath a tree and just waited for the birds to start hunting. The weather, or more particularly the light was grim to say the least, the low grey cloud prevailed all day and the light got progressively worse from the time we were there. We arrived at 13.00 and by 14.30 conditions were so bad we had to abandon our shoot. Quite disappointing because the Owls were showing off and on, however, when you are using iso speeds of over 1000 your images are going to suffer and for me it really isn't worth carrying on.
I managed a few grainy shots but at times like these it's good to just watch these birds hunting for Field Voles in what is quite a challenging environment for them.
Perhaps we will try again if the sun comes out over the Xmas holidays!!





Sunrise and sunset in Mallorca 2.
29th October 2015
Sunsets, however, are much more difficult to capture than sunrises because you know where the sun rises every day and if you are at the location in plenty of time you can get a similar image fairly regularly. With sunsets although the same geography applies the red skies tend to be a bit more uncertain. Some evenings there are none at all and sometimes the colour is in a different place, it usually depends on where the cloud formations are. I went out one evening about an hour before sunset to try and pin down where the best place was to see the sun setting and after a bit of driving around I could see the best viewpoint was in the garden of a large private villa. I only had to stand just inside the front gates to get the shot and there appeared to be no one around so I waited until the sky became coloured and just went inside and took the shot.

Tramuntana Mountains.


I saw no one and we were on our way without any problem.
These mountains really are spectacular and I'm sure there were many better vantage points known to the locals but this was the most convenient for us.
Sunrise and sunset in Mallorca 1.
29th October 2015
This autumn for most mornings and evenings I could see a nice sunrise and sunset from the terrace of our holiday villa in Pollenca, Mallorca. The sunrises looked to be over Port de Pollenca, about seven miles away, so one morning I got up extra early and drove to the sea front there. This place was jam packed with tourists from mid-morning onwards and was not a place I wanted to be, but it was quite pleasant at first light. I waited for the sun to just peep over the horizon and then took a shot straight away.

Port de Pollenca.


If you wait for the full sunrise the chance is gone because the sun just blows everything. A few people arrived after the sun had risen and took photographs but they would be no good against such a strong sunlight.
Name of the game as always - get up early!!
Firecrest, a photographer's nightmare!!
21st October 2015
Along with Goldcrests, Firecrests are the smallest birds in Europe, their diminutive size combined with their relentless movement is a big problem for a birdwatcher and an even bigger problem for a photographer.
All it takes is one leaf in the wrong place and they are either obscured or even fully hidden. Their feeding habits draw them to thickly wooded areas as they search relentlessly for insects in every nook and cranny. However, there is one way to try and locate them because they have a great liking for Holm Oak trees, unfortunately there aren't many of these trees in this part of the country. Norfolk has many and that is likely where you will find Firecrests, as an alternative you can try Sycamore but wherever they are, they are always difficult to pin down.
On the Balearic island of Mallorca Firecrests are numerous and again they favour Holm Oak, but they are in virtually every wooded area. I have never heard so many calling and singing birds, but still they are terribly difficult to photograph. I even had two birds briefly fighting over territory on the roadside not ten feet from where I stood.
I spent an hour most days trying to pin these birds down, often I could see them moving around the tree canopy and sometimes coming right down to eye level. Because of their small size it would be ideal to use a 1.4 tele-converter on your lens but this makes focussing too slow because of the dim areas where these birds operate. Therefore, it was the bare lens on f4 and an elevated ISO to create a decent shutter speed in order to try and get a reasonably sharp shot.
I managed to isolate birds a few times away from too much dense cover and here is one of the results.

Autumn Colours on the River Usk.
20th October 2015
I have been out trying to take advantage of the now rapidly developing autumnal colours around this area. The river Usk is remarkably low at the moment and this low level is allowing access to areas of the river that would normally be under water.
Today this situation allowed me to get a better view through the middle arch of Brynich aquaduct looking up-river to Brynich road bridge near Brecon.
Looking through the aquaduct arch the riverside trees were bathed in sunlight and the river was just lazily moving over the exposed river stones. There was a distant Grey Heron on the river bank about a hundred yards away and it wasn't bothered by me in the slightest, this bird is always in this area.
I felt this was an ideal opportunity to use an ND filter to slow the water up and make it look even more tranquil.
Again I set the camera to f10 and ISO 100, a small aperture and the lowest ISO on the camera. I exposed the scene at 1/25 of a second on these settings then did my calculation for the ND 200 filter using my smartphone AP, (mentioned in previousl Blog post on ND filters), and this came out at around 10 seconds. I switched the camera setting to manual and then switched off the auto focus and attached the ND filter, covered the eyepiece with a piece of tape and tried a few exposures around this shutter speed.
This was the result;

Canon 7D Mkii and 600 f4 Mkii V Eleonoras Falcons.
19th October 2015
We have just returned from an autumn break on the Balearic Island of Mallorca. There was not a lot of birdlife there but that was not the point, it was just to spend some time in different surroundings and enjoy some warm weather. We did some touring around by day in our hire car and saw some spectacular scenery. Then most evenings we just chilled out along the seafronts and harbours relaxing with a cold beer…or two!
However, one day we drove up to a place called ‘Cap De Formentor’ a bit of a tourist hotspot and to be avoided at all costs after about 11.00am any day. Most tourists head for a lighthouse where the road ends but about two miles before that there is a cliff where Eleonora’s Falcons breed and as the sun comes up it stirs the Dragonflies into action and these are the basic prey of these falcons. From a very small pull-in off the road we could see them come swooping across the cliffs at great speed, a very impressive sight. At one stage they came past reasonably closely and I thought there might be a chance of a flight shot at some time in the coming days. The following morning broke with a fabulous sunrise and we decided to try our luck with the Falcons, there was no time to waste because we didn’t know if they were going to hang-around.
As I mentioned in my review of the Canon ef600 f4 Mk ii lens, because of its dramatic weight reduction it can now be carried in your hand baggage on a plane. This is perfect for me because it doesn’t affect my hold luggage on non-birding trips such as this.
We were at the small pull-in very early and had the place to ourselves, after about half an hour the birds began their daily flight routine, swooping and diving across the cliffs and sea in their hunt for Dragonflies. I quickly assembled my gear and I just had the bare lens at f4 and the IS setting on mode 3, (please see review). I was using my Canon 7D Mk ii and now was the ultimate test for the auto focus system on the camera and the IS system on the lens.
I had been watching these birds hunt and they were coming across the cliffs and assessing where their prey was and then they stooped down below the cliffs and then swept up at super speed and snatched the unsuspecting prey before it had time to react. This meant I had only a few seconds to track them and then focus before they were too distant. This was not an easy task but slowly and surely as I got into the rhythm, the auto focus of the 7D Mk ii was snapping onto them and because the lens was on mode 3 it didn’t stabilize until the camera had focussed and the shutter was released.
I was very impressed with how both the lens and camera performed in this difficult situation.





Harvest Moon.
28th September 2015
Last night the moonlight was really intense, the fields were lit up as though it was still daylight. Bad news for the local rodents as the Tawny Owls were out in force. They were hooting all around because this time of year the young Owls are being forced by their parents to find their own territories.
Down at Llangors Lake a Harvest Moon was glowing large in the sky, a so called 'Super Moon'!
The lake and surrounding sky were bathed in a silver moonlight, fabulous!



Canon 1D Mk ii.
Canon EF 17-40 f4 Lens.
Hoya ND256 Filter.
Autumn Sunsets.
28th September 2015
In the Brecon Beacons as the year draws on into Autumn the sunsets start to become more vibrant, and although it is a very short window of opportunity it is well worth getting out to try and capture these beautiful evenings.
Near our cottage is a mountain called Allt yr Esgair, translated into english as The Wooded Ridge, this is a well known landmark and also the place where the sun sets in this part of the Beacons. I was out at 18.30 this evening waiting in a field for the sunset and at 19.00 it started, first a slight pink glow then orange and then what I had been hoping for, at 19.15, an intense flame red sunset. What a sight it is when this happens, it gives me a real thrill to see the sky painted as though it was an artist's canvas.
Then as quickly as it appeared it was gone, a fleeting glimpse of nature at it's best!



Canon 1D Mk ii.
Canon EF 17-40 f4 Lens.
Hoya circular polarizing filter.
Black Shuck, a Norfolk legend.
21st September 2015
For hundreds of years legend has told of a huge black dog that haunts North Norfolk’s quiet lanes and marshes, terrorising unwary nocturnal travellers. This Norfolk legend has become known as ‘Black Shuck’ the devil's dog. The word ‘Shuck’ probably derived from the old Anglo Saxon word ‘Scucca’ meaning devil or demon.
Those unlucky enough to see him will either have bad luck or even worse befall them or their family members. Shuck usually appears as a huge black hound with glowing red eyes and he has been reported to follow and sometimes appear to those who are foolish enough to be abroad at night on these lonely lanes and marsh tracks.
I have read about this Norfolk legend for many years and I must admit to being a devotee of a good well written ‘Ghost Story’, stories written by such luminaries as M.R.James for example.
I am certainly not a fan of this modern rubbish, full of blood, guts and screaming.

Recently I came across a novel written about this legend while I was browsing wildlife sites in North Norfolk. The book is written by Piers Warren a Norfolk wildlife film maker who obviously loves that part of the country.
If you like a good story of this genre, with the natural world as a backdrop, then this is definitely worth a read. If you are familiar with the North Norfolk coast around Blakeney, Cley and Salthouse then that is a bonus, but either way this book can become a real page turner. As the nights grow longer and Autumn tightens its grip, imagine yourself on the windswept North Norfolk coast, those 300 pages will not take long to read!
It is without doubt worth the £7.99 retail price.
It can be ordered on-line from www.black-shuck.co.uk.
Delivery is quick and reliable.

Neutral Density filters.
05th August 2015
Things are very quiet at the moment, a sort of ornithological hiatus is presiding. In addition to this the weather has been appalling throughout July and into early August, long periods of gloom compounded with drizzle and gusty winds have been the norm. To prevent going into a state of torpor I have been doing a lot of work in my garden during this period and now that I have completed all this work, I thought I'd get out for a walk.
I don't use many filters when shooting landscapes, usually just a circular polarizer, but I thought I'd have some fun with an ND filter today, just for the hell of it.
These filters basically allow the user to shoot long exposures without 'Blowing' the image and without these filters images tend to burn into a white-out when exposed for long periods. Basically these filters act like a strong pair of sunglasses over your lens.
They come in various strengths from lightly tinted right up to what are nicknamed the 'Big Stoppers'. These high density filters stop about 10 f stops of light and you cannot see through them at all. However if you want to just give your images some nice effects without going right over the top, a filter of about ND256 is fine. This stops around 7 stops of light and will smooth out water and accentuate cloud movement. These effects can give some drama and movement to a static image. Most importantly these filters do not affect the colour or balance of your images.
I have always used Hoya filters because I find they are well made and reasonably priced.
A note of warning;
As I have mentioned previously, cheap filters are not cheap really, they are just nasty and in this instance they will give a horrible colour cast to your images and possibly cause vignetting.

I set my gear up today on a shallow limestone pavement with water rushing over it to a depth of about a foot. I walked across onto a slightly raised dry area above the water. From here I could put my rucksack down safely and readily access my kit, this is very important to avoid accidents.
In this area I could hide quite effectively behind some bushes once I was set-up and this has previously allowed me to observe Kingfishers, Dippers, Grey Wagtails and Grey Herons.
To set up the shot below;
Use the lowest ISO setting available on your camera and also use a small aperture, typically ISO 100 and f11.
i. Compose and focus as normal, use a remote shutter release.
ii. Note your settings, 'shutter speed'.
iii. Switch off the auto focus.
iv. Attach the ND filter.
v. Cover the camera eyepiece with a piece of black tape.
vi. Switch to manual exposure control.

There are some very useful apps around today and you can download from 'Google Play' an app which will accurately calculate your new shutter speed that you must use with the ND filter attached.

To use this 'FREE' app on your smartphone just key in your original shutter speed, prior to the ND filter, key in your ND filter strength eg ND256 and press calculate and your new shutter speed is provided. No pieces of paper with charts on and more importantly no trying to guess from memory.

vii. Dial in your new shutter speed.
vii. Take your shot remotely and ensure you dont move the camera.
Depending on what you want to achieve, check your image and try increasing or decreasing your shutter speed.
NB. If your revised shutter speed is above 30secs you must use the 'Bulb' mode on your camera, this means that when you press the remote shutter release and lock it, the shutter will remain open until it is released!!
You have to manually time this exposure.

It helps if you have a static Grey Heron in the shot!!

Kingfishers on the River Usk, Episode Three.
03rd July 2015
What a difference this morning;
I was out again at 05.00am but this time I had to wear wellingtons to get to my Kingfisher site. The other morning the grass was bone dry, this morning it was absolutely soaking and in addition the ferns seemed to be a foot higher today and were also sodden, the result of a heavy overnight mist. I got quite wet getting down to the river but I was under cover quickly and soon dried out. I had to wait for the light to improve, however, I was sure the gloom would lift as soon as the sun got up. Around 08.00am the Kingfishers started flying onto my perches, I shot both the male and female birds quite quickly, although disappointingly the light was still not the best. After some time, things began to slowly improve and I now had a juvenile bird on the perch, three different birds, quite nice. Unfortunately when the sun came up over the canopy things started to get more challenging on the lighting front. A harsh sunlight was now hitting my perch making correct exposure very difficult indeed. My only solution was to drop the ISO setting down and also underexpose by a stop and two thirds, using the camera exposure compensation, thereby taking some of the harshness away from the birds when they landed on the perch. As I always mention I try to get an uncluttered background if possible and I could achieve this because I set up the perches. I previously went into the river and removed all the stones that were just breaking the surface and in-line with my shooting area. I also cut down some straggly hanging branches that were over twenty yards away. These may seem insignificant but they will come back to haunt you because the stones show up like snowballs in the background of your images and the branches are like spaghetti, horrible!
The result of this underexposure was the brown background of the woods now becoming black and the Kingfishers shining like beacons against it, very pleasing indeed!



For Info;
Camera settings;
ISO 200
AV Mode
Aperture f5.6
Focal Length 840mm
Under exposed by one and two third stops.
Shutter speed 1/640 sec.

If you have the opportunity to achieve this it is well worth the effort. I took many shots at various lights and it turned out to be a very productive morning.
Please see Favourites, Kingfishers.
Kingfishers on the River Usk, Episode Two.
01st July 2015
After watching Venus and Jupiter appear in relative close proximity and marvelling at the wonderful bright full moon I could tell that it was hardly going to get dark last night. The night was hot and humid so sleep wasn't a viable option and the birds were singing at 03.30 this morning so I decided to get up and make my way down to the River Usk. As I carried my kit through the fields I could see there wasn't any dew whatsoever on the grass, everything had dried out after yesterday's heat, quite unusual!
When I arrived at the Kingfisher's territory I could see my perch was still in place, so I quickly got under cover and waited for the birds to start flying around, I saw some movement across the river and slowly a Fox emerged out of the vegetation, I took a few shots but it quickly disappeared back into the undergrowth. After a while an adult female Kingfisher landed on the perch, this was a surprise but it suggested to me that their second brood are either out of the nest or very close to being so. She preened for a while and removed a feather from her wing. These birds wont tolerate badly laying feathers and always quickly remove them.



After a while the sun came up over the trees and bathed the whole area in a golden light and almost immediately an adult male Kingfisher landed on the perch. I shot him in wondrous light, these are the rewards a photographer gets for getting out very early.



Sometime later the female returned and she started to hover over the river.



There is never going to be enough light to allow a high enough shutter speed to freeze a Kingfishers wings at this location, but I was pleased my new lens 'locked onto' her in mid-air, in what was worsening light because of the cloud cover that had now appeared. The light continued to deterioate and it then began to rain, I knew it was all over by then and I decided to pack up and leave, however, because I was there early I had beaten the weather.
Kingfishers Spring 2015.
25th June 2015
Although this spring has not been warm in the Brecon Beacons, there has been very little rainfall. As a result of this dry spell the local rivers have fallen to quite low levels. I have been watching a stretch of the river Usk near to where I live and I decided last week that if the weather remained dry then I would erect some perches in the hope of attracting some Kingfishers. Yesterday morning I went to a favoured location very early morning and cut some perches with my machete I then erected them right out on the river. I always choose a piece of wood that is roughly 'L' shaped, with a long trunk, about six foot with an upswept branch about two feet sticking out of the water. The trunk is laid under the water and is weighed down with heavy flat river stones. I then use a sharpened straight stake which is hammered down into the river bed with a flat stone and then I tie this to the upswept branch. Finally I attach the finishing perch to this stake, usually a more attractive piece of wood with some lichen or moss growth on it.
I had to wade in up to mid thigh to achieve this so wearing shorts and just old shoes or trainers is necessary. The submerged log was under a depth of about a foot and the final branch was about three feet above the river where it is about three foot deep. I always use driftwood for these perches because when they are finished they are just reclaimed back by the river.
I made my way back on to the river bank got dressed and waited for an hour hidden away to see what would unfold. I immediately saw a Kingfisher approach the perch but it veered away at the last second, unsure of something new. This is perfectly normal because it usually takes them a few hours to accept a different perch. I didn't see any birds land on my perch while I was there but I left fairly sure that they would accept it.
This morning at first light, 05.00, I was back at the location and as I approached slowly through the undergrowth I had the satisfaction of seeing a Kingfisher just sat on my perch. Always nice to see this happen, although if you locate your perches sensibly then these birds will accept them. However, you must calculate correctly where you are going to situate your hide because if the birds don't like where your hide is they wont come near the perches. I had to wait for ten minutes until he, (I ccould see it was a male bird), flew off down river. I quickly erected my hide and got under cover and waited for the light to improve. After an hour or so a bird perched and I could now see that ir was a young bird. This was a surprise to me and I realised that the adults had already reared their first brood, of which this bird was obviously one, and they were in the process or rearing their second. I know this because I saw the adult male flying with a fish facing forward in its beak last week. This is always a good indicator that they have young, because they always eat their catch immediately on or near the perch they have fished from.
I was able to take a few shots and I am confident that if my perches hold firm I will have more opportunities over the next month to possibly photograph more members of this Kingfisher family.
Please see Favourites, Kingfishers.
Tawny Owls.
22nd June 2015
At this time of year young Tawny Owls have more or less left their nests and with some effort can sometimes be seen perched on nearby tree branches. Early this morning I was out walking in a local deciduous woodland in the hope of locating some Owls. I could hear the adults hooting as soon as I arrived. It is such a lovely iconic sound, I never tire of hearing it. Then in response I could hear the tell-tale squeaks of young birds, exactly what I was hoping for. However, that is the easy bit, locating these Owlets is quite difficult, I was standing partially hidden under a large tree for around an hour just listening for sounds and movement. Suddenly I saw an Owl fly silently across the canopy and land in a nearby tree, a young bird started to squeak immediately and I then knew where they were. I continued to wait, just scanning the foliage until at last I could see an Owlet.
I had switched off the autofocus on my lens because in the dense cover it just 'hunts' to focus if a leaf or branch blows across it. I manages a few shots of the Owlet with the foliage just blurred out around it.


Sometimes that's all you can get and I was just happy to locate one of these difficult birds.
However, I decided to give it some more time and I was rewarded with an Owlet perched out on a branch for a minute or two.


Sometime afterwards I had decided to pack-up because it had become very quiet and I thought that was it for the day, but suddenly I could hear some song birds making a commotion. This is always a sign that an Owl is out in the open, I quickly followed the disturbance and I could see an Owlet perched quite low down, probably mobbed by these songbirds. I quickly set up nearby and I was rewarded when it surprisingly flew very close and just stared at me inquisitively.


I managed to take a few frame filling shots, it was that close!! Then the adult called and the owlet flew up into the canopy. Quite a nice morning watching these lovely young birds in very nice surroundings.
Red Kites, ever the opportunists!
08th June 2015
It's that time of year when my neighbours leave a few fields of grass grow long, then in a dry spell of weather, mow them, thresh them and then bale them up for silage for animal fodder later on in the year. Whenever this happens, as if by magic the Red Kites appear, from seemingly nowhere. They know that there will be mice and other rodents displaced by the farm machinery and they wait above hoping to get a easy meal. When I saw the tractor in the field I immediately set my gear up and tucked in close to my apple trees which border the farmland. I watched the two Kites take at least six rodents during the time I was there, they really are opportunists.
Please see latest Images, Red Kites.
All shots handheld with the Canon ef600 f4 mk2 lens.
Cuckoos flooding in to the Beacons.
29th May 2015
In a previous blog I was lamenting the lack of Cuckoos this spring. My historical sites for these birds were all barren, no sight or sound of any calling birds. The Cuckoos are always in by the first week of May and for me to find so little evidence of them was very disappointing indeed. However, yesterday I found another three at a site that doesn't usually support them, that made six in total, so things were looking up. More importantly I had heard two females uttering their characteristic 'Bubbling' calls, this is good news for breeding purposes. On the back of these sightings, today I went to one of my best sites for Cuckoos and to my delight I found another three birds including another female. That's a total of nine birds and three females, there must be a later migration of Cuckoos this year, or certainly a delay in birds coming north after they reach the UK.
Again I employed my tried and trusted 'Modus Operandi', wait and see if they have a pattern to where they are perching. I could see them perching in a dead Hawthorn tree about a hundred yards away and there was conveniently a thicket of Gorse nearby. I waited for them to fly out of sight and then I ran into the Gorse. I strung some 'Camo' netting across the gorse and just kept quiet and still. One thing I was not expecting was a bitterly cold wind to rise up and I wished I had brought more clothing, especially as a vicious rain shower descended. Luckily I had my Camo rain cover over my kit and I could also shelter inside the Gorse. After about an hours wait a male bird came flying towards me and then passed very close by and landed about five yards away in a Willow. I daren't move or he would have flown away and not returned, experience has taught me to never be impulsive and to 'sit tight' in these circumstances! Then what I was hoping for happened, he fluttered down from the Willow right onto the dead branches of the Hawthorn, he obviously couldn't see me. However, his back was turned to me, this was no good, so I stayed calm and still sat tight, then he began to call and he turned around and struck a perfect pose. This is what I was working for, I shot him immediately to capture the moment before he turned away again, but he stayed there for about half a minute and to top it all, the light was excellent.
It's a great feeling when things come together.

Cuckoos Spring 2015
25th May 2015
This spring has been very poor for Cuckoos in the Brecon Beacons and all my usual historic sites have drawn a blank. I have only heard one bird calling distantly and I couldn't see where that was calling from. I had almost given up seeing any this spring, (which would be very disappointing for me), until I was out walking yesterday morning. As I got to the top of a local hill I could hear a bird calling quite closely, so I tucked myself away in a copse of Rowan trees and waited. After about twenty minutes a male bird perched in a nearby tree very briefly, I shot him immediately before he flew off again. Then remarkably I could hear a female Cuckoo with her 'Bubbling' call and the male bird shot off in pursuit after her, then suddenly another male joined in the pursuit and all three were in the air together. All this spring without seeing a bird and then three come along together, what a lovely spectacle!!
I don't know how the situation with these birds will unfold but I hope the female pairs with one of the males, we need more Cuckoos.


Male Cuckoo.
Long Eared Owl, Lesvos
18th May 2015
The Long Eared Owl is a very difficult bird to see in most countries and particularly in the UK. This is mainly because of its nocturnal habits and cryptic plummage. However, if there is one thing that gives them away its their characteristic, deep, muted hooting which can be heard for up to a mile away. It is completely different to the hoot of the Tawny Owl and with experience is easily separated.
One evening after returning from one of the local tavernas Sue and I were sitting on our hotel balcony enjoying a glass of chilled wine. In the distance we heard this muted call of the Long Eared Owl and we decided there and then to try and locate it. Luckily the Owl was still calling at intervals when we left the hotel and after walking for about 500 yards in the direction of the hoot, through a small village, just on the edge there was a stand of Eucalyptus trees adjacent to an Olive Grove. We walked a little further until we thought we were directly under the sound, unfortunately we couldn't see the Owl in the limited light.
Having located this potential territory we decided to return the next day;
The next morning we were at the location at first light and scanned the Eucalyptus trees and Olive Grove for over an hour without success. Undaunted, we stopped for a sandwich break in the car, when we recommenced our search I noticed a large bird perched on an Olive branch. Much to my elation I could see a semi-fledged Long Eared Owl Chick staring back at me - what a fabulous bird!!



As the sun came up warming the morning air, the chick became more alert, opening its eyes and starting to preen. Almost immediately we heard the characteristic hoot of an adult male Long Eared Owl, obviously watching his chick.
We started to search the surrounding trees and after about an hour Sue exclaimed "there he is" - high up in a Corsican Pine was the male Long Eared Owl.



I manged to take a few shots of both birds during this time, but as the morning progressed and village noise and traffic increased, the adult bird swooped silently down and disappeared into the depths of the Olive Grove and during this period the chick had also moved into denser cover.
To find an adult Long Eared Owl and a chick in one morning really was special.