Arnside, Cumbria

Posted on 29 April 2016, 15:02

Never accompany me on a train journey.

That would be my Top Tip for you, after (not quite) a week I’ve just spent at Arnside in South Cumbria, where the journey out was colossally bollocksed by a broken-down train at Carnforth, which resulted in the wholesale cancellation of services between Carlisle (where I was when I found out about the problem) and Preston; and a desperate, half-arsed panic by the train companies to organise replacement coaches at short notice.

The net result of these shenanigans being that I was two hours late reaching Arnside. Not a good situation, given that I’d piled onto the coach I needed to be on without having had the chance of a pee first…

Cut to the journey home, and another broken-down train – this time on the Carlisle-Newcastle route – meant I was over half an hour late getting back to Newcastle.

You have been warned…

OK, the plan was to use Arnside as a jumping-off spot for any of a number of appealing venues: Leighton Moss RSPB, Walney Bird Observatory, Holker Hall, Foulney Island and more were all on my itinerary, as was the area immediately around Arnside itself.

Sod’s law being what it is, I somehow managed to more or less knock the nail clean off my little toe not long after arriving at the hotel, which at a stroke ruled out any long yomps such as would have been necessary to visit Walney, Holker Hall and Foulney – it was bloody painful to walk any real distance.

Leighton Moss it is, then… Not a major issue, though: although I’d never been before, I figured I’d see enough to point my new Canon 100-400mm Mk II (and 1.4x converter) at. And only three minutes’ train journey away.

Of course, being the week before the May Day Bank Holiday, the weather was predictably great – wasn’t it?

Clue: It started like this:

And ended up like this:

But I bravely soldiered on. As someone once said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong kind of clothes. I get that argument, but it fails to address the point that we “natural light” photographers do rather like light – and you can’t dress for that…

As a result, I was routinely at 4000, 5000 and sometimes even 6400 ISO just to maintain a relatively modest 1/800 shutter speed. Note that the 100-400mm’s IS makes sharp images at slower shutter speeds easy – the Mallard below is at 1/80, and was only one of a large number in the series that came out pin-sharp at up to 560mm, this one (at 280mm) having the best rain streaks (which was the point of the slow shutter speed in the first place).

A fast shutter is generally needed for the little stuff though, and I really did struggle for light sometimes.

But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be as satisfying when things come together. I suppose…

Anyway – the pictures. Bearing in mind the shonky light, and the preponderence of “Usual Suspects” I did well enough to be happy that I’ve given the lens a good work-out. And for the most part, the conclusion is: “what a lens!

I still got a few pics that weren’t as balls-out sharp as I’d hoped they would be, and the reason wasn’t always immediately obvious. But I’m pretty analytical about such things, and have put the majority of failures down to combinations of:

1) 1/800 not being quite fast enough;
2) Shallow DOF, even at F/8, when you’re really close to the bird; and
3) An AF Assist Point grabbing something other than the bird (I eventually went to single AF point because of this, and I’m usually a big fan of multiple AF points).

On number 2): for reasons best known to Canon (and probably to the physics, I accept), using a 1.4x converter with the 100-400mm means the user is limited (with the 7D Mk II) to one of three central AF Point options: Single AF Point; Spot AF; and AF point plus 4 assist points.

This becomes an issue when the bird is filling the frame but you can’t move the AF point onto the bird’s eye, and – as happened to me a lot – you end up with umpteen shots with the bird’s breast or flank being really sharp, and the head being OOF because if was outside of the DOF.

Without the converter I’d have moved to a peripheral AF point on the bird’s head, and the problem would go away; but with a converter on, it’s middle or nothing.

I could probably have worked round this by focussing and recomposing (In anticipation of just this sort of thing, I’d confirmed before I headed off to Cumbria that the lens IS continued to activate when I took my finger off the back button – locking the focus – and moved it to half-press the shutter button) but it’s not a habit that’s in my muscle memory yet, so it didn’t really happen on the day.

Nevertheless, when things clicked – and for the most part they did – this thing is crazy sharp at 560mm:

Dunnock, Leighton Moss

Dunnock, Leighton Moss

Dunnock, Leighton Moss

Pheasant, Leighton Moss

Pheasant, Leighton Moss

Pheasant, Leighton Moss

Pheasant, Leighton Moss

Pheasant, Leighton Moss

Pheasant, Leighton Moss Hello, ladies..!

Marsh Tit, Leighton Moss (a photographic first for me)

Goldcrest, Leighton Moss

Goldcrest, Leighton Moss

Goldcrest, Leighton Moss

Goldcrest, Leighton Moss

Being an RSPB reserve, there were confiding Robins all over the place too:

Robin, Leighton Moss

Robin, Leighton Moss

Robin, Leighton Moss 4000 ISO, this one.

Now then: I’ve got zero practical experience of Redpolls so – given that this thing was tiny – I’m going with “Lesser”. If you know better, let me know:

Lesser(?) Redpoll Again, not a bird I’ve photographed before.

Lesser(?) Redpoll

I mentioned the weather and a Mallard:

Mallard, Leighton Moss “Don’t even think about asking if it’s nice weather for ducks!”

This was a surprisingly skulking Willow warbler (this is a work in progress – I’m not happy with the colour):

Willow Warbler, Leighton Moss

Back around Arnside:

Greenfinch, Arnside

Heron, Arnside Don’t think I’ve ever seen the sea this flat. The weather wasn’t bad all the time!

Near where I took this, shoreside of Grubbins Wood just south west of Arnside, there’s a Raven nesting in a huge Scot’s Pine – way too high to get the camera on, but a very cool thing to see and hear.

Even given my travel tribulations and the pain from my nadgered toe, I did enjoy myself, all told. I stayed at Arnside’s Ye Olde Fighting Cocks – getting about the only room without a view of the Kent Estuary – but it was a far better room at £37 a night than the shit-hole £101 a night Blakeney Manor Hotel I stayed at last September, and it was only the strange room rules that let it down a little.

To wit: no food or alcohol in the room? Seriously? I’ve never stayed at a hotel with these prohibitions. The no booze rule was supposedly a condition of the hotel’s licensing obligations, but I’ve never heard or seen the like before. It, and the food ban, both felt exactly like trying to drive business to the hotel’s bar and restaurant.

Oh – and no wi-fi in the room I was in either, despite it supposedly being available.

Even so, I quite like Arnside, and I can see myself going back to have a proper go at it, getting to Walney and the other venues I didn’t reach this time.

One strange thing though: In my time there I had huge areas of beach entirely to myself – this is usually a major beef with me, given the seeming impossibility of finding a beach with waders on it that isn’t infested with fecking dogs and their arsehole owners – but although I had all the sand I could cope with at Arnside, there were no waders: no Sanderling, no Dunlin, not even the odd Turnstone.

That was a disappointment, I admit.

Finally: I can say with authority that the chippy at Arnside isn’t nearly as good as the ones at Bridlington harbour. Expensive, too.

Now then. I wrote here that my (then) new Chromebook was proving to be an ideal mobile solution for photographers, subject to some obvious limitations.

In fact, there are a couple of additional caveats I feel I should mention.

The first is that for some reason, the computer will not read SDXC cards through my USB 3 card reader. CF cards, no problem – but SDXC cards (both of which card types the 7D Mk II uses) just will not be recognised.

Via the Card reader.

Weirdly, there’s no problem at all simply putting the SDXC card into the Chromebook’s own SD card slot. Then it’s a straightforward matter quickly to copy content from a card to an external USB 3 location like a portable HDD or large capacity USB stick, thanks to the two USB 3 ports on the Chromebook: using both for card reader and external storage; and only one if I’m only using the external storage.

(This isn’t a problem now, but I’ve had a hankering for this thing – but it doesn’t have an SD card slot, so I’d be relying entirely on the card reader. Which might not work for SD cards on this Chromebook either…)

Added 7 May: For no particularly good reason, I found myself wondering about the card reader I use.

It works perfectly across the board – on my Windows, Android and Chromebook devices – with CF cards. It’s only SD cards on the Chromebook where I have a problem.

The point being that – on the face of it – it’s fine.

Well, be that as it may, a few days ago I popped (a whole £4) for a 7DayShop SD card reader (just like this but USB 3.0 – maybe I got the last one, because the one I got is not on the site now).

It arrived today (7 May) and – bugger me – it works perfectly with the Chromebook: it sees, reads and otherwise handles SD cards presented to it, with no problems whatsoever. OK, this means I’ll need to carry two card readers with me in future, but this thing is tiny and light, so that’s no hardship at all.

And it means that the new Chromebook might be an option again…

The second is that large volumes of Raw files (in the high hundreds, say – a couple of hundred or less are fine) are a struggle for the machine to cope with (even with its 4gb of RAM) once they’re on the external storage.

It takes a while to build thumbnails; and reviewing them in the “Gallery” app can be slow and flakey. Not a huge problem, but it did take longer than might strictly have been necessary to review and cull the first day’s shoot (nearly 800 CR2s) because of this.

But for all that, it still works.

And – just to make a point about Chromebooks – I’d rented and downloaded Star Trek – Into Darkness from Google Play Movies before heading off to Arnside. It looked and sounded (using decent in-ear headphones) great on the Chromebook in full HD, and the TN screen wasn’t a problem at all for watching movies.

This was offline, remember – not streamed – which further emphasises that Chromebooks aren’t just about online use.

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