Monday, 30 August 2010

36 photos summarising my wonderful weekend....

It's been quite a hectic weekend this Bank Holiday. Not least because I worked on Saturday and Monday. Didn't stop me having fun though. Or.......... taking far far too many photographs. Instead of a wordy blog today, this weekend, I shall let the photos do the talking......

After days of dark, wet and miserable days, Friday evening developed such a glorious sunset over Bristol Channel, I had to photograph it from my bedroom window.

On Saturday I was at Corfe Mullen, just outside Poole in Dorset by 8.30am for their BioBlitz (see previous posting last Friday). It was a great day but by mid afternoon I'd finished work so headed home. En route home was the Stock Gaylard Oak Fair, North Dorset which I last went to in 2008. I love this Fair, and on Saturday I had time to have an hour and a half wandering about in fabulous sunshine before it closed.

Lots of toys to play with..........

................... things to burn !!

Things to buy............

........things to saw

and arty photographs to take......

And piles of wood.............

It's thirsty work wandering about taking photographs so I thought, I know, I'll pop over to the Greyhound pub at Sydling St Nicholas and have a refreshing cider shandy while reading the paper.

Before that though, I had to drive past Cerne Abbas. The light was stunning on the fields, but the only way to replicate it, due to the sun being in the wrong place, was to take this exposure driven photo from the car...and yes it did look like that.

Or if I looked the other way, it looked like this.

Or if I looked towards Cerne Abbas it looked.... well you're getting the picture now!

I did make it to the pub eventually, and quaffed a most welcome cider shandy, read the paper and hoofed it back home.

That was Saturday.

By 9am Sunday I was back in Wiltshire (via Dorset and Somerset) for my day off this weekend. I have to admit I was not the most energetic of people in the morning, absolutely nothing to do with the cider shandy, or bottle of red wine, followed by muesli when I got in. Anyway, we had a quiet morning, which involved doing something interesting with a plum tree. But in the afternoon went for a walk, to Bedwyn Brail.

Bedwyn Brail is adjacent to Great Bedwyn on the Wiltshire/Berkshire border and a walk I'd not done before. Setting off in glorious autumnal sunshine, the much beloved and self hoofed it up a hill.

Or let me rephrase this. We hoofed it half way up the hill until autumnal produce caught our eye........

Anyway we spent so long messing about, the blue skies of our walk were rapidly being overtaken my dark and brooding clouds.

But at least the views were stunning

Before the rain came, and boy did it come.

We tried to shelter under the trees, but eventually made a dash for a gamekeepers hut, where two other walkers were holed up.

But eventually the rains subsided and we continued our walk.

past sweet chestnut

and verdant foliage (just took this because of the composition)

By the time we got back to Great Bedwyn, the sun was out and the wonderful buildings in this village were at their best.

So homeward we drove for a well earned cup of tea, a Jaffa cake or two and a rest. But not for long. Being such a wonderful evening, we decided to go for another walk, this time to Avebury. In all the years I've lived down here I've never visited Avebury. Driven through it, but never stopped.

So we parked at the bottom of the Avenue and walked up it towards the circle

I took some arty photos......

of trees and stones

or stones and shadows

or texture of the rock

or atmospheric skies

or the setting sun through trees

Before walking back down the Avenue as the sun began to set..........

Now that's what I call a fabulous end to a day..........

Friday, 27 August 2010

Corfe Mullen Bioblitz tomorrow

I'm off tomorrow to a Bioblitz for work. What is a BioBlitz you ask? Well it is a Citizen Science initiative whereby the local community take part in research and activities on their own patch, for the benefit of science generally and the local patch.
Jane Adams a fellow blogger is co-ordinating this event at Corfe Mullen in Dorset. More information about the event can be found here and Janes blog can be found here;
I'll report back hopefully with some photos.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Potter Wasp, the Walk and the Cathedral....

Last Thursday found me in Devon. I had an early start down there to record a Living World programme for Radio 4 on the Potter Wasp, Eumenes coarctatus. Not many people know that in Britain there are over 6,500 species of wasp. We all know the common wasp, the one which pinches our jam and drinks our cider. But those social wasps number but a few species, of which the wonderful Hornet is the biggest in Britain.

However the vast majority of the wasps in Britain are solitary wasps, who species number in their thousands, with probably hundreds more yet to be discovered. It is of this group that the Potter or Mason wasps belong and in Britain we only have one true pot making wasp.

These potter wasps are found only along the southern most counties of England, principally on Lowland Heath, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex. They have a fascinating biology, which at this time of the year sees them producing wonderfully delicate pots. The photograph above is a potter wasp quarry. It doesn't look much, but from here the female potter wasp gathers a tiny amount of wet sandy clay and flies to a site 60 or more meters away to make its pot.

And there it is. I've always loved social wasps for the wonderful work they do in the garden eradicating pests, plus their extraordinary ability to produce fantastic paper nests. But having now made a programme about solitary wasps I'm hooked. Just look at that pot. The sheer effort the female goes into the construction of this pot, in only a few hours, is staggering. Once completed, the wasp fills it with paralysed caterpillars, deposits a single egg and seals the pot. The egg will hatch and the larvae overwinters inside the pot, munching its way through the still paralysed caterpillars. In the spring the wasp emerges and the cycle begins all over again. Nature at this micro level is absolutely fascinating.

Normally only one pot is made in a chosen location, but here we have two joined together, and up to 7 pots have been recorded. The photographs above were taken by me on location. However none of this would have been possible without the dedication of local naturalist John Walters. I urge you to visit his website here.

It has taken John over 4 years to get to the stage where he can find and record the biology of potter wasp pot creation. The 2 photographs below were taken by John earlier this month and well what can I say, is this not just a remarkable sight?

We'll broadcast this programme later in the autumn, and I hope that those of you who listen will be as enthralled as I was with this little solitary wasp on a Devonian gorse bush.

While there, we also went to a common wasp nest in a hole in the ground (there is a wasp in the hole if you use a magnifying glass)....

... which allowed me to record some much needed wasp buzzing sounds as the drones and workers flew in and out doing their daily chores.

Not the most scientifically-technically competent way of recording wildtrack but the wasps flew happily over the microphone and I got what I wanted......

That was Thursday. As I now spend most of my weekends in Wiltshire, unsurprisingly by Friday evening I could be found recumbent in that fair county. Rested, fed and watered on Saturday we arose and after shopping, went for a long walk in very inclement weather across the Marlborough Downs, Rockley to be precise. It is wonderful up there in storm like weather. A few other hardy souls were braving the elements but pretty much we had it to ourselves, and when a rain band came across, we did have it to ourselves, except for the many hardy corvids who were enjoying the wind along the escarpment.

We walked about 6 or 7 miles from Rockley up to Barbury Castle and back along one of the many trackways in this part of Wiltshire. Highlight being a red kite, just as we got back to the car, quartering the hillside. Definitely a walk to blow the cobwebs off, and provided a fitting prelude to a convivial evening in the Wagon and Horses public house at Beckhampton. Which I discovered during the evening was an inspiration for Charles Dickens.

"It was a comfortable-looking place. There was a strong cheerful light in the bar-window,"
Begins Dickens's description of this handsome stone and thatch 16th-century inn on the Marlborough Downs. Its heyday was as a coaching inn between London and Bath, (hence the name), when waggoners would stop to freshen up and horses would get re-shoed at the inn's smithy. Dickens travelled this way in 1835 and featured it in The Bagman's Story in The Pickwick Papers.

All of which, now brings me to Sunday and a visit to Salisbury. Being left to amuse myself for a few hours, I ventured to the Cathedral to play with my new camera. Which I have to say I'm loving. 2 hours spent in there experimenting, followed by a cup of tea and a cheese scone, is my idea of a good Sunday day out. So what did I get up to then?

I photographed the font using the inside setting. Then I photographed the water cascading off the font using the macro and a forced flash.

Then I played around with the exposure metering to photograph the cedar tree in the quadrangle, from within the cloisters.....

...before trying my hand at the "candle light" setting which I thought worked wonderfully well.

Just before leaving, I tried some more of the auto-functions, and this one, for providing grain to a black and white image, I do like. I do like this effect a lot.

There is just something evocative and textural about black and white photography, and with this grain effect, it just excites me. Later in the afternoon I took 50 or so portrait shots of Julie using the same grain function. Just magical, but the attractive subject through the lens of course helped enormously.

Not all of my photographs over the weekend were artistic. Some have provided deep rooted trauma in the beholder.......

There's nothing like a strange shaped root vegetable to get me taking even stranger photographs. I'm not sure which is worse, the shape of the vegetable, or the fact I saw a photo opportunity..........

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A third brood of my house martins

Well yesterday after returning from a day at work and wondering what to do, I thought it is about time to unpack the new camera and have a play. I can't believe I've had this camera since last Thursday and it was still in the box until last night. I'm slacking. Actually just haven't really had the time to sit and play with the functions.

I used to be a big SLR fan before digital came along, then the prices rose and as compacts became more and more sophisticated I switched to those, not least because a lot of the time I'm out and about, so a small compact which does the job, while also slipping into a pocket is the boy for me. Film is still superior though in my book, just expensive to process now.

I used to have a wonderful Canon G9, well actually I still have it. But after nearly 7,500 images over 18 months the sensors began to fail, and finally turned over and shuffled off this mortal coil about 6 months ago. In this throw away society, repairs were more costly than buying a new camera. But I was in a quandary what to buy. A replacement, the G11 was an option but I had niggles after the G9 failed. So since the G9 failed I've been using my BlackBerry (actually not bad) and my ancient Canon Powershot A35 which I actually like but it's not ideal for macro.

Research led me to the Panasonic TZ range with Leica lens's, and after much faffing about - a good deal on a now superseded but brand new TZ7 made my mind up. Hasn't quite got the functions of the G9, however it does have one advantage - a x 12 optical zoom. The G9 could go to x24 as a digital zoom but actually over x8 it was hopeless, with only the in-built image stabilising saving the day.

So last night I unpacked the camera and went outside to photograph the house martins.

I moved into this house in December and a house martin nest was in the eves, boding well for the summer. Well the summer came and the martins returned, festooning my windowsills with, shall I call it the aftermath of feeding. I loved lying in bed hearing the little martinettes squawking and squabbling just outside, however the mound of aftermath grew. A few weeks ago after the second brood had fledged I cleaned the windowsill, only to discover immediately that 'it' was beginning to accumulate again. I give up. But excitingly this is now the third brood of my house martins.

But back to the photography. After taking the first photograph above, I wondered what the zoom was like just standing there and hand held. These shots were taken at exactly the same spot as the one above, just zooming in.

This one above is at x 6

This one above is at x 12

I have to say considering this wasn't the best light possible and I'm new to the camera's sensors, this hand held x12 shot of the nest is pretty good. I like my camera already......!

But then thought I wonder how fast the shutter speed is. Can I photograph the martins going into and out of the nest. The G9 had a super fast shutter speed allowing shots like this to be made quite easily. This Panasonic has just a fractionally slower shutter speed. So after half an hour and the light starting to fade, the image above of the parent arriving at the nest and the one below (that white tail bottom of frame) of it leaving aren't the best I took, but were the best of the bunch.

More practice needed - of course it could be operator error!

About an hour later a stunning sunset began over Bristol Channel and beyond to Wales (I'm only 10 miles away as the crow flies) and using the special 'sunset' function I have to say I'm impressed with the end result as it maintained the colours well.

So far so good then. I'm off to Dartmoor tomorrow for work, so will have an opportunity to try out the macro function on some wasps. If any images make the grade, I'll post them on the blog.