29 Jul 2017

Summer wildlife and curly hearts

Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?  
David Attenborough

We managed to get a lovely two week break in the English lake District in June and I’ve been spending the time since in catching up the backlog of orders and trying to get some of my pieces remade to replenish shop stock.

Consequently, I haven’t yet had time to work through my photographs from that fortnight, although I’m looking forward to doing so.  If truth be told, I haven’t worked on the last batch from September yet either, so may well publish a gallery featuring images from both, when I do get to it.  For the first few days we were away, we were in the middle of the really hot spell mid-June and our decisions of where to go and what to do were determined by finding shade and a bit of a breeze.

The local heron's favourite roost after breakfast to do some preening and let his meal settle.
The local heron’s favourite roost after breakfast to do some preening and let his meal settle.

One of the perils of staying in a static caravan, which is something we truly love for a variety of reasons, is that being a tin can with modest insulation, they much reflect the outside temperature and it can change much more rapidly than it does in a brick or stone house.  And whilst in the hot sun most of the day, it ends up like being inside a roasting tin, so we did spend as much time out and about as practical over those few very hot days.  But once the garden was in the shade of the caravan itself in an evening, the nearby river and trees made it absolutely delightful.

The first photographs I have worked on are some wildlife images, although it’s also true to say that they’re not stunning quality either.  We had several lovely evening visits by wildlife – from an unusual group of 5 red deer hinds, who only appeared at dusk on two evenings when it was absolutely torrential rain, a green woodpecker who roosted in a nearby dead tree – which is an absolute magnet for birds of all types and is the focus of much of our bird watching.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker youngster waited to be fed. He was actually perfectly capable of feeding himself, which he happily did when no one was watching.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker youngster waited to be fed. He was actually perfectly capable of feeding himself, which he happily did when no one was watching.

We were also visited regularly by a family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  Mum was very timid, but when Dad was on duty, he was more tolerant of my taking photos and junior didn’t seem to even notice us.

The red deer, shown in the gallery below was taken on a digicam which doesn’t have the image quality of my DSLR, but does have more than twice the focal length – which was necessary on this occasion.  It was actually significantly darker to the eye than it looks in the photo, which was taken just before 10pm on a truly miserable day and the shutter speed was only 1/8 second, through a window, although I did use a tripod and the self-timer to minimise camera movement.

The green woodpecker also came well after 9pm as that was obviously her bed time.  She would land on the dead tree, considerately calling loudly as she arrived, to alert us and then she’d spend at least 15 minutes very still on the trunk, just leaning back and looking around.  Once she was happy with the situation, she’d rapidly scurry around the trunk and pop into her bed chamber.  Some nights she wasn’t happy and she’d fly off, occasionally to return later, some nights preferring another roost.

One evening she took to her bed and I was washing up at a window immediately in-line with the tree and she started making a real din, screeching and calling from within her roost and on looking up I saw a tawny owl land on a side branch of the tree, looking directly at me.  The green woodpecker obviously knew he was there and vocalised her objection, at which the owl took off and she left her roost and we never saw her again after that – she must have decided that it was no longer the des res she had thought.

The only way I could capture any of her activity, due to the late hour and distance from me, was to use my superzoom digicam on video mode, which for some reason gave much better results than still shots, so the photos below of her are still frames from videos I shot.  If I can fathom out the best way to post some video here (the files are HD and rather large) I’ll add those too, as her rapid disappearance into her hole is well worth seeing.

Lake District Gallery:

I’ll add to this gallery as I work on suitable images – so for now, this is just a start with a few wildlife photographs.  More to follow.

Recent Work Gallery:

I’ve needed to replenish stock of some of my curly heart pieces and whilst on a roll with them, I’ve added a couple of new variants too, with a shiny bronze pair of earrings, a garnet wrapped pendant and a smaller version of my beaded pendant.  Truth be told, that was an error as I intended making my usual size of pendant and looked at the wrong line of sizes in my design book, so it may well be a one of a kind pendant.

16 Sep 2015

The English Lake District in September

By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.  Helen Hunt Jackson

We have just had a lovely holiday in our favourite spot in the English Lake District. We had pretty decent weather and got to walk out every day.  We had occasional torrential rain, but fortunately, not at any times when it interfered with our plans.  Some of the days were a bit grey and flat, which makes for lacklustre photographs, but we also had some spectacularly beautiful days, with bright sunshine and haze free, clear views, which more than made up for the rest.  Some of the areas we visited looked as fabulous as I’ve ever seen them.

So this post is pretty much just about the photographs, so I’ve set it up as a gallery.  Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.  I’m trying a new gallery feature for such image-heavy posts, so the images all open in a simple pop-up ‘lightbox’.  If you want to view them all in sequence, simply start with the first one and scroll through them using the left/right arrows at the edges.  I have set it to display the images at random, so if you refresh the page, they will appear in a different order.

There are captions with the photographs that explain where they were taken etc.  The lightbox re-sizes to a proportion of your browser window, so if you want to see them larger, go to full screen and they’ll possibly increase in size, especially the portrait images.

Lake District Panoramas:

Some of the vistas in beautiful places like this are very hard to do justice in a mere photograph, so I love creating panoramas by stitching together multiple individual and overlapping photographs to make a single very wide view.  This requires the individual frames to be taken very carefully, with everything set manually (including focus and white balance), so details don’t change from one frame to the next to get a consistent join. If you’re interested in creating your own panos, I wrote a tutorial some years ago about my own technique, which is still pretty much how I do them now.

I note with each one how many frames form each image.  The original master images are all in excess of 50 megapixels.  In this gallery, they’ll open at the width of your browser window, even though they’re actually larger than you’re likely to see them, but if you want to see more details, there are links below to even larger versions which will allow you to scroll around the image to see more, as you’ll be seeing the image in the browser at exactly the size I uploaded it.

Larger versions:

If, like me, you like looking at the details in large panoramas, I’ve also uploaded a bigger version of each image too – I’ve put them separately so that they don’t load unless you click the links, in case you’re on restricted data.  They’re all in the region of 2.5 megapixels and around 3000 pixels on the long side and around a megabyte in data size, so they will take a moment or two to load. They’re in the same order as posted in the gallery above.  Depending on your browser and settings, they may well load initially at a reduced size to fit the window, but can probably be clicked or swiped to enlarge and allow you to scroll to view it all.

1 Jul 2015

Wild birds and panoramas

If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.   Bernard Williams

We had an early summer holiday in the Lake District in June this year.  We always try and get a week away before the school holidays; we’ve found that the weather in June in the north of the UK is usually pretty decent, often good and sunny, but without getting too hot and comfortably cool overnight.  We had a varied mix of conditions this year, from glorious sunshine to torrential rain and it was certainly pretty cool, dropping to 4C overnight a couple of nights.  Likewise, we’ve found September to be a good time too for the same reasons.

Windermere in the English Lake District, looking approximately north east.
Windermere in the English Lake District, looking approximately north east.

The air temperature was largely cooler than average, which whilst a little disappointing in terms of lacking in sunshine, made for perfect weather for walking which we like to do every day – at least on the days when it isn’t actually pouring down.  We use those weather conditions as a perfect excuse to do very little.

I love to see the woodland flowers, like these speedwells and yellow pimpernells, amongst the trees.
I love to see the woodland flowers, like these speedwells and yellow pimpernells, amongst the trees.

One of the best aspects of being away in June is the lovely long evenings and being able to enjoy the views etc. once back at the caravan we hire.  We get back from a lovely day out in the fresh air and we wash up the picnic lunch materials and prep it all ready for a repeat performance the following day.  We ponder dinner and spend an inordinate time gawping at the views.  Just simply enjoying the tranquility.  It’s one of the important reasons why we prefer static caravans to cottages – the large panoramic windows which allow you to enjoy the outside view, even when in repose on a banquette.  Even around midnight, there was lightness in the sky and enough light remained to make out features of the landscape, even with no artificial lighting whatsoever for miles.

The river Brathay which runs between Grasmere and Rydal Water.  I love the way the trees closely hug the river edges.
The river Rothay which runs through Grasmere and Rydal Water and this is the stretch between that links them. I love the way the trees closely hug the river edges.

I saw a TV nature programme some years ago and there was a chap there sitting on the banks of a river and he said his favourite activity was sitting still and gawping and that if you’re still and quiet, nature will simply come to you.

This struck such a resonance with me, it’s something I’ve always loved to do – just to be still and observe with all of your senses.  It’s one of the most restorative and rewarding ways you can spend your time, although I know that some people would simply find it dull.  But that’s just fine with me, as it means they’re not competing with me for suitable spots to gawp. I also suspect, as I’ve posted previously, that it’s an activity that becomes more attractive with age, only then can you truly appreciate the value of peace and stillness.

The adjacent river and supporting streams through the farmland make it a good feeding ground for herons and we see them most days.
The adjacent river and supporting streams through the farmland make it a good feeding ground for herons and we see them most days.

The long evenings gave good opportunities to gawp – and as is often the case, even on the days when the weather wasn’t that good, the evenings came lovely, with lovely golden evening sunshine.  Just outside the caravan is a feeding post for the bids and the owner provides good supplies of food.  Because of the time of year, there were several families of recently fledged birds for our entertainment, including jays and woodpeckers.

We found that the larger birds tended to land first on a tree trunk at the corner of the plot and then hesitantly make their way to the feeders, as long as we made no noise or movement to spook them.

Daddy woodpecker would smash peanuts on the tree trunk and fill his beak to feed the youngsters.
Daddy woodpecker would smash peanuts on the tree trunk and fill his beak to feed the youngsters.

So we thought it was worth trying to put some food on the tree trunk itself and within minutes, it paid dividends.  The greater spotted woodpeckers were obviously a family, with the pair and at least one juvenile.  The parents would seemingly visit, break up the peanuts we left, cram their beaks full and take them off to feed their brood.  At one point, we did see three of them together at the trunk, so the youngsters were certainly capable of feeding themselves by this stage.

Getting photographs of such timid birds is always a bit of a trial as they are so easily spooked, the slightest movement or sound will cause them to leave rapidly, so the only way I’ve found over the years to be successful, is to set everything up in advance, eliminating anything other than minimal movement to take the shot.

The male woodpecker's practice was to grab a nut off the top and take it down the side to break it up against the trunk.
The male woodpecker’s practice was to grab a nut off the top and take it down the side to break it up against the trunk.

This was how I managed to get these frames, by setting the camera up on a pod in the window and pre-focusing, so that I only needed to fire the shutter.

The male, as shown, liked to grab a peanut from the top of the trunk, take it down the side to a little perch, where he would break it up against the bark, fill his beak with the broken pieces and take them off to feed his youngsters.

We also had visiting jays to the tree trunk, but their method was more snatch and grab.  They’d swallow down whole peanuts, presumably into their crop, then fly off once they had a dozen or so.  We assumed that they then regurgitated these for youngsters, or cached to return to later.  I wasn’t aware until I saw them do it, that they do in fact cache food when there is a good supply, a practice that stems from their favourite time-limited food of acorns.

The jay didn't realise I was watching him retrieve nuts from his stash.
The jay didn’t realise I was watching him retrieve nuts from his stash.

We both noted on several occasions that they were seen pulling up tufts of grass and at first, we wondered if they were nesting for a second brood.  But I later caught one of them revealing just what he’d used the grass for.

In the grassed lawn area outside the caravan there must have been a nice little neat round hole, about 3 inches deep and the same in diameter – whether the birds made it, or just found it left from some other activity, but they’d filled this with peanuts and must have used the plucked grass to cover it over.  I watched the bird shown left remove the grass covering and then proceed to swallow at least a dozen whole peanuts.   He clearly didn’t want to give away his hidey-hole as he spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder and being furtive.  Apparently, once acorns are available, they can do this with many thousands of acorns.

A little mouse in a dry stone wall ate an enormous pile of sunflower hearts.
A little mouse in a dry stone wall ate an enormous pile of sunflower hearts.

When stopped one afternoon in a favourite spot, I saw a movement on the wall outside the car and saw a mouse moving about amongst the stones of the wall, something we see often with this type of wall, the space amongst the stones must make really good lodgings for small mammals.  I noted where the mouse had vanished into the stones, so took out some sunflower hearts to see if he would come out for them, which he did within a handful of minutes.

He ate his way through a considerable quantity of them, before deciding to take some off to cache.  Whilst away from the food, I saw a movement in a slightly different position and a shrew appeared and helped himself too – but the mouse wasn’t for sharing and chased him off at speed.  And they continued between them in snatching food and chasing each other for some time.  When we left I put some more food out and in several other positions too and when we passed that way the following day, it had all gone.  I think it’s a fair exchange if I put down a handful of food in payment for my entertainment.

I’ve always loved taking landscape and panoramic photographs, but I’ve got lazy about it recently as my old computer wasn’t really up to stitching the much larger modern digital files, so I had got out of practice.  We found ourselves at Arnside as we were coming home and it had rained very heavily in the morning, but the cloud now lifted, giving rise to a glorious warm and bright afternoon – and the lovely clear atmosphere that follows a cleansing downpour.  There’s a large vista to view on the sea front at Arnside, so I took some frames for a panorama.

This is my favourite of them, stitched from 3 photographs.  If you click on the photograph below it will lead to a much larger version – they need to be viewed at a decent size to fully appreciate the area they cover.  The linked image is 174Kb and 1634 x 480 pixels.

The newly refurbished railway bridge crossing the bay at Arnside in Cumbria, in front of the hills of the Lake District.
The newly refurbished railway bridge crossing the bay at Arnside in Cumbria, in front of the hills of the Lake District.


If you enjoy looking at panoramas, I have a page of my favourite panoramas on one of my other web sites and I recently added a blog post here featuring a brand new set of panos of the English Lake District.


29 Sep 2010

I can’t imagine life without trees

For me, for the most part, as long as I can periodically escape to some of my favourite spots outdoors and get some fresh air and stretch my legs, I can cope with whatever life throws at me. In tricky times, or with tedious things I have to endure, like dental work or waiting in unsavoury places for overdue buses, I imagine walking through some of my favourite tracts of woodland. It’s something I look forward to intensely when I know I have a trip planned. The mental images and memories of being in places such as the ones shown here, pop into my mind many times a day and I long to be there.

Please click on any of the photographs for a better view, they look rather dark here on the page.

Even on the treadmill at the gym, I position myself on one of the machines near a window where I can see a short run of screening pine trees they’ve planted to separate the tennis courts from the playing fields and picture myself walking through them into more dense deciduous woodland beyond. I just cannot conceive of life without trees and being amongst them. I’m totally comfortable in their company and more at peace than anywhere else.

Early in the walk, a well made path runs level along the lake shore, rising steeply away from it shortly.

If I were given the option to wish myself away to anywhere, it would almost certainly be to one of my favourite woodland walks. Ideally, on a crisp, still, autumnal day with clear blue skies, fabulous views and glorious autumnal colours – even better if the woodland is deciduous or mixed and has a good smattering of beech trees. This particular day it was grey and damp, so the colours are not at their best, but I’d rather be there in rain than most other places on a nice day.

There is a habit in more recent times in managed woodland, to leave some of the trees that have either fallen naturally, or been cleared for management, to rot naturally in the woodland as they would without intervention. This then becomes a habitat to a wide range of plants and insects, adding to the health and biodiversity of the woodland.

I just love the intense array of natural sculpture nature provides us with along the way, partly from human intervention as above, to the natural abstract of the materials of the forest, as below.

The weather doesn’t often play the game, but the venue is much more reliable. I don’t even mind less than perfect weather, sometimes it even has its advantages, well known spots tend to be much quieter, which is always a bonus.

I don’t mind walking in dampness – loving the English Lake District makes this somewhat a necessity – gentle rain certainly won’t stop us from setting off – but driving rain and wind do tend to just spoil things. To quote Billy Connolly, as I have many times; “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” If you attire yourself accordingly, it doesn’t have to stop you enjoying the outdoors.

One of the few advantages of being that bit more mature, is that you can plan your holidays outside of school holidays when it’s generally much more quiet and often the only people you pass are other mature types taking un-seasonable breaks and local dog-walkers.

Being a lover of and regular visitor to the Lake District, weather does tend to be a factor close to your heart, but we’ve had atrocious weather in summer and lovely weather in spring and autumn, even winter, so the time of year actually seems to matter little – you get what you get.

We’ve just returned from a 4 day break there, it was supposed to have been the start of our 2 week annual holiday, but a whole batch of assorted circumstances meant we had to downgrade it to a short break instead this time. And after a recent health scare and resulting hospital treatment, I was a little below par and my walking a tad less robust, but it actually made my time amongst the trees even more precious, valued and needed. It did me a world of good – woodland rarely fails to restore me.

There are a couple of sweet chestnut trees along this particular path and at this time of year they’re just falling off and opening on the ground. They’re fabulous to look at, nestled amongst fallen leaves, but decidedly hostile for handling. Last year I made the mistake of putting some in a bag to use as photo props, but having strapped it to my camera bag was like a pin cushion when I got back to the car – those interlocking randomly angled spines are incredibly effective defensive weapons.

The photographs on this page were all taken on one walk on Monday along the western shore of Windermere – the largest lake in the English Lake District. The eastern shore is the main holiday area and the best know to most people, but we love the other side – it’s densely wooded and much quieter. This particular estate is owned and managed by the National Trust.

This particular favourite walk, of just under 3 miles, starts flat along the side of the lake and rises and undulates through mixed and established woodland slightly off the lake, dropping back to the lake after about a mile and a third or so – it’s rather more steep in places than the photographs would have you believe.

We have a habit of getting to the point where the path meets a small beach with lots of large rocks, where we perch awhile, watch the boats, feeds some ducks, take some refreshments and then return, whence we came, for lunch back at the car park.

I just love being amongst this sort of mixed and elderly woodland and it’s especially gorgeous in autumn where the mix of beech and oak amongst a whole selection of different spruce and pines makes it an interesting and varied scene.