Sunday 11 February 2024

Kingfisher - Otterbourne, nr Winchester - 15 January 2024

It was as long ago as summer 2021 that I last visited Pete Whieldon's Kingfisher hide at Otterbourne, near Winchester, so another session was long overdue. Despite the bird being present since last summer, the hide was still quite popular, so I needed to book well in advance. Hence  I had no control of the weather on the day.

This proved be very dull with low light levels more or less all day. It did brighten up around midday but at that time the bird was on an extended (4hr) lunch break! Hence most of the visits were relatively early morning and late afternoon when it was very dull indeed. 

This turned out to be a mixed blessing as the dull conditions from this hide produced nice soft lighting conditions for photos of the perched bird. Action shots were however challenging and, to freeze the bird's motion, I had to use up to ISO 25,600 on both the Canon R5 and R7. As the photographers among you will know, such a high ISO generates very high noise levels, especially on images from the cropped sensor on the R7. 

But it is amazing what the latest AI noise reduction software can do with these types of image. My preferred combination for such photos is to use DxO Pure Raw 3, followed, if necessary, by Topaz AI noise reduction.

I was also keen to try out to the pre-capture option on the R7 - which allows collection of images taken before the shutter button is pressed - potentially useful for Kingfishers diving in a fixed direction off a perch.  

Here is a selection of photos I took through the day. Click on any of the captions to go to my website and see larger images. 

Also, go to my Kingfisher gallery for more high res. versions of all the photos from this and other occasions. 

Kingfisher just of the perch, taken with the R7's pre-capture  © Stephen Burch

A couple of frames later by which time it had drifted slightly out of focus © Stephen Burch

Contact! Taken with the R5 by pre-focussing and blasting away at 20 fps! © Stephen Burch

Just about to return to the perch with a fish (R5) © Stephen Burch! 

Early morning perched. © Stephen Burch

Early morning with a fish. © Stephen Burch

Later on in the day. © Stephen Burch

Wednesday 30 August 2023

Barn Owl near Market Harborough - 23 August 2023

Earlier in the year, I watched a YouTube video by Mike Lane which covered a session he had at Des Ong's raptor/Barn Owl hide near Market Harborough. During the day he had been able to photo a Kestrel and later on, Barn Owls appeared, initially in daylight and then after dark. 

This got my attention as I'd never heard of this hide before, and I had never previously had the chance to photo Barn Owls from a hide. So I quickly arranged a date in July with Des. Unfortunately the forecast for that session was atrocious so I asked to postpone it. The next mutually convenient date was 23 August - much later than I had hoped for.  

By August, all of the session, which started at 20:30, was in darkness, so there was no chance of any daylight photos. After dark, lighting is provided not by flash but continuous LED lights which limits the max shutter speed to 1/100 sec, so there was no chance of any action shots. 

When we arrived, we were told that the pair of Barn Owls, which nest very close to the hide, were onto a second brood, but this was at the egg/small young stage. 

Once installed in the "trailer hide" we were told to be as quiet as possible and not to use any light. This was somewhat challenging and the odd brief use of the torch was needed. It was also a warm and very still night.

All started well, as one of the owls arrived almost immediately we were settled in at 21:00 and stayed for about ten minutes. But unfortunately, for whatever reason, there were then no further visits for the remainder of the session, which ended abruptly at 23:00. So a somewhat tedious couple of hours - although every so often an owl would fly into a nearby tree to get our hopes up. But it always then just flew off. 

However, that one visit did provide a reasonable range of shots, as shown below. 

Because of the dearth of visits, Des has agreed we can return for a free session. So hopefully next year some day time photos will be possible, and there will be more visits, if we time it right. 

Click on the captions to see large images on my website

Barn Owl at the end of a post © Stephen Burch

Barn Owl face on © Stephen Burch

Barn Owl sideways on © Stephen Burch

Barn Owl front view © Stephen Burch

Barn Owl close up © Stephen Burch

Barn Owl with large mouse © Stephen Burch

Saturday 22 July 2023

Somerset Wildlife Hides - 5 July 2023

This was my first visit to Peter Spencer's raptor hide near Yeovil. This was somewhat further afield than my normal range and required an overnight stay the night before.  [Peter doesn't appear to have a website, but does maintain an active Facebook Group].

The key attraction of his raptor hide at this time of year is a family of  Kestrels that nests nearby. With the young having recently emerged, all were coming down to the perches. Hence there could be the amazing sight of up to about 4 of the 5 juveniles and one adult (usually the male)  present at the same time!

This hide faces NE and so with a sunny morning, the lighting was very difficult. However after a few hours it become more cloudy which helped. In the afternoon it stayed cloudy when I would have preferred some sun! Such are the vagaries of photography from a fixed location on a day booked months in advance. It least it wasn't pouring down with rain all day, as it had been doing the day before!  

This hide features a large range of perches, but many had rather close backgrounds which I prefer to avoid. There was however one post where the background was some distance away. The hide also had a reflection "table" very close to the hide but none of the birds went in it when I was there. 

There were frequent visits during the day, especially the morning, so I took a huge number of photos. 

I show a few of them below (click on the captions for larger versions).

Also, there are more photo on my website, which can be found by going to this gallery:

Kestrel Gallery

For this shot, these two juveniles were on this post, and briefly were both looking in roughly the same direction towards me. 

Two juvenile Kestrel together © Stephen Burch

I never find flight shots easy with the restricted viewing at most hides and this was no exception, especially when using the rear screen all the time and not the EVF. However this one worked out although I'm not too sure about the background.

Kestrel in flight © Stephen Burch

For this shot, I tried the pre-capture facility on the R7 which worked for once: 

Incoming Kestrel © Stephen Burch

Below is a portrait of the fine male. A very well coloured bird:

Male Kestrel © Stephen Burch

I believe this is the female - about to depart:

Female Kestrel © Stephen Burch

One of juveniles calling to be fed, even though they could all do this themselves perfectly well!

Juvenile Kestrel © Stephen Burch

A juvenile on a different perch:

Juvenile Kestrel © Stephen Burch

A juvenile on the hedge in a bit of sun:

Juvenile Kestrel © Stephen Burch

Sunday 9 July 2023

Scotland May 2023 - North Uist and Mull

I show a small selection of the photos from this trip below, but for more of them go to my gallery of photos:

Photo Gallery

For larger versions of each of the photos below, click on the captions.

In May, we spent a couple of weeks on islands off the west coast of Scotland, with a week each on North Uist and then Mull. 

North Uist

Overall it was a better than expected trip photographically, especially on North Uist, where we were blessed by reasonable weather. In addition, there was an amazing rough road side field a few hundred metres from our rented house on the west coast, which had daily Short-eared Owls and, even better, the odd hunting male Hen Harrier. 

Almost daily morning visits to this field led to some memorable close encounters, as shown below. The best conditions were sunny, with the wind blowing from the east - so that the birds tended to be flying towards me.

Short-eared Owl close up. © Stephen Burch

Hen Harrier © Stephen Burch

Elsewhere on North Uist and its adjacent islands also produced some photo opportunities, including the machair of Berneray. Here I managed to use the car as a hide to photo waders that were feeding in a very wary flock just by the road.

Dunlin © Stephen Burch

Ringed Plover © Stephen Burch

There was another unexpected bonus in the form of some very confiding Twite at the end of the minor road along the south shore of Loch Euphort. A hunting male Hen Harrier also flew past, but not nearly as close as the one shown above!

Male Twite © Stephen Burch

More expected was a close encounter with a White-tailed Eagle from the Lady Anne boat trip that sails from a small harbour off Grimsay. Apparently last year, the birds weren't performing at all, but this year one was more obliging. This is the highlight of the boat trip which those running the trip seem to be surprisingly coy about, only announcing it to the other passengers just before it happened! Unlike on the Mull boat trip (see below), there were no other photographers on this tour. 

White-tailed Eagle © Stephen Burch


Well satisfied with the photo opportunities on North Uist, Mull turned out to be less productive. We did however have another great boat trip, on the Mull Charters Lady Jayne for White-tailed Eagle. Despite some camera issues, which caused me to miss several of the dives with a full buffer, I still got a fair selection of shots to process, including this one. See the gallery for more shots.

White-tailed Eagle © Stephen Burch

Shortly after we arrived on Mull, news of an American Wigeon on Loch na Keal came through. By using the car as a hide, I was again able to get some close shots as the bird came ashore and proceeded to walk towards us. 

American Wigeon © Stephen Burch

Elsewhere on Mull, I didn't find a great deal of note to photo, other than the odd snap shot such as this Oystercatcher on the southern shore of Loch Spelve at Croggan. This bird posed nicely in great late afternoon light.

Oystercatcher © Stephen Burch

We spent some time somewhat casually looking for Otters. Although we spotted a few, they were all distant and elusive. Indeed we encountered more otter watchers than otters! Many seemed disappointed and there were some suggestions the otters were being less obliging than previously.

It was very good to get back to Scotland after an absence of  several years, due to Covid and other issues. It is however a long way to drive, with our house on North Uist being 600 miles from southern Oxfordshire! 

Photo Gallery

Gallery of photos - click here to access

Wednesday 3 May 2023

Hobby close encounters in Oxon - April 2023

One late morning last week, these birds were coming very very close, almost within touching distance at times! These photos are a remarkable testament to the auto-focus capabilities of modern mirrorless cameras,  in particular the Canon R5 with the RF 100-500 lens.

To see larger versions of all these images, click on the captions. 

For a gallery of all these photos and more, click here.

Crop of the photo below. © Stephen Burch

Almost frame filling! © Stephen Burch

Turning this way. © Stephen Burch

Approaching.... The next shot was the photo at the top of the page © Stephen Burch
Cruising past. © Stephen Burch

Zeroing in on an insect. © Stephen Burch

Friday 7 April 2023

Marlborough Downs, 9 February 2023

Here are some photos from a memorable visit to David White's winter Buzzard hide, high on the Marlborough Downs near Berwick Bassett. Since my previous two visits, the hide had been relocated and fitted with a fully glass front window. This gave much more freedom when photographing the action but at the slight expense of always shooting through the glass. This was however specially imported from Spain and designed to give minimal loss of image quality. Note at this hide, you have to be installed well before dawn, and then wait inside until dusk. It was however a very comfortable hide, with a small kitchen and even a WC (the first hide I have ever found with one of these!).

Unlike previously at this location, this visit benefitted from intermittent sunlight from about midday, with glorious "golden hour" conditions in the late afternoon. With the on-line booking, I found I was able to wait until the forecast for a week hence was favourable. In the event, forecasts at that range are not very reliable and the morning was very dull and misty before it burnt off later.

From mid/late morning onwards, multiple Buzzards were present, which gave some opportunities for photos of them fighting over the food. The supporting cast included fly over Red Kites that were difficult to get onto despite the unrestricted window. There was also a confiding pair of Ravens present on and off almost all day.

To see links to more photos, go to this page on my website. Also click on any of the captions below to enlarge the photos.

A couple of Buzzards in a tussle, before the sun came out

Buzzard confrontation in the late afternoon sun

Buzzard fly past in great light

Another flight shot in the late afternoon

Perched Buzzard 

Buzzard on the ground in lovely light

Buzzard on the ground without sunshine

Buzzard close-up

Red Kite cruising past late on