Sunday, November 23, 2008

It was the final Scrag Copse woodland bird's workshop today for the year and what a bitterly cold one it was too! It started at around minus 1 and snow but deteriorated into sleet and then pouring rain. It did not look good. However, a sudden break resulted in spectacular light for more or less the rest of the day. It was that low slanting sunlight that just pushes under snow laden clouds that has a certain special quality. With the light came the birds too; all species performed well and we even had a redpol come to feed on the ground just in front of the hide, which is a welcome first. So, despite the day it was a successful one and I'm a little sad that there are no more workshops until 2009, however, there are many other jobs to be done before the spring.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Many thanks to the builders just round the corner from where I live for letting me raid their skip and take out a load old floor boards. These will be perfect for making more bird nest boxes over the next few months in time for breeding season in 2009. The builders seemed happy that I was using them to make boxes for little birds and were decent enough to try and find more decent lengths. In all I recovered about 24m which should be good for about 15 boxes!
At Scrag I made sure all the feeders were full and all the logs were baited with lard. There is an Arctic front coming tomorrow and although in the past I have enjoyed extreme spells of weather, these are the events that decimate small woodland bird numbers and these days I feel a bit more responsible for their survival. I remember once working from a hide during a very bitter spell a couple of years ago. A blue tit fluttered strangely to the ground and just appeared unwell, so I walked out and gently picked up the tiny ball of feathers. It was obviously unwell to allow me to do this. I cradled it in my hands but within a few minutes it appeared to tremble and then just died leaving me holding the still warm body. I'm not sure it was the cold but whatever it was killed this poor tiny bird and it was an incredibly sad and poignant moment. In good times they appear healthy, energetic and robust but throw in a few days of bad weather and their chances of surviving each night plummet.
So, please go and feed your birds.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I taught a group about fungi photography yesterday at Scrag Copse. Despite recently finding a colourful fly-agaric and a lovely shaggy ink cap, big bold fungus specimens were thin on the ground yesterday. I think it is because the late summer and autumn has been fairly wet over a prolongued period, meaning we haven't had that burst of fungi associated with still warm weather and moisture. They have, in effect, come out in dribs and drabs. However, if you think small, there is always fungi to find and photograph on the woodland floor and I'm pleaseed to say that the group really worked well managed to get some fantastic shots. In fact after a couple of hours we had all got our eyes in and adjusted for the task and we were all finding some great subjects.
For me it was an unusual opportunity to wander of my usual path in search of something new and discover fresh or re-discover rarely visited corners of Scrag. Interestingly I found some dead thin trunks of sweet chestnut with what appear to be small woodpecker holes; possibly an old lesser spotted woodpecker nest site!
I think the recent winds have meant that the autumn colour is about a week beyond its peak but there were still field maples with their bright yellow leaves glowing out and many oaks are still cloaked in bronze. Hazels are still surprisingly green and so gaining an advantage from the overshadowing ash and hornbeams having already lost their photosynthesising cells.
From around 3pm a female tawny owl was repeatedly giving its Kivick call although would not come in to my poor male impressions! I have also heard a female around the same time of day near the car parking area so I feel that there are definitely 2 females in this section of the overall woodland block. It is around now and certainly going into December that tawnies establish their territories for next year's breeding season and I plan to do a nocturnal walk in the next month or so to get some idea of numbers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another day teaching woodland bird photography today. It was fairly bright in the morning but got darker and damper as the day progressed. Everyone got woodpeckers and nuthatches thankfully; they are so reliable now. Interestingly, there are also log-tailed tits and even jays coming in to some of the baiting logs. This is very good news as it means more species to photograph and they are very colourful birds. Yesterday, I was pleased to see a single goldfinch back on the niger seed feeder; I hope he goes and tells all his friends!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I had a fantastic day yesterday with Will Cheung, editor of Photography Monthly, who joined me to photograph woodpeckers at Scrag Copse. The birds performed superbly and I think Will, a veteran of many photographic events, was genuinely impressed with the proximity as well as the natural situations we were able to put the birds in. We managed to photograph 8 species in all including full-frame portraits of nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers. Hopefully, the piece that Will puts into the magazine will mean a lot more bookings in 2009 on the Woodland Birds photographic days.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Grey and still the weather was today and that suited me just fine. I'm writing a 'how to' article on photographing fungi at the moment so I spent the afternoon doing just that. The article will only be submitted for next year's fungi season but if the images aren't taken now there won't be any new ones for the article. It means a very long lead-in time but that's the nature (no pun intended!) of the job. It involves taking the typical 'beginner' shot and then doing step-by-step improvements and demonstrating each improvement in each successive shot. I found some really nice fungus specimens including good brackets and puff balls, however, the only fly agaric I found had been well and truly nibbled, so not worth shooting but I'm always on the lookout for fresher ones. If you want to learn more about photographing fungi join me on the fungi photographic day at Scrag Copse on the 15th November.
While slowly progressing through the wood today there was a very welcome visitor, well, lot's of them actually. It appears there's been an influx of goldcrests; I counted at least 30 throughout the day. These are the smallest British bird and although a resident species we get high numbers of them from the continent, especially Scandinavia, in winter. They are lovely birds, sometimes a little hard to see, but once you do they really are interesting almost resembling hummingbirds as they hover and glean tiny insects from the foliage.