That worked out well...

Posted on 1 April 2013, 11:21

Photographic partner in crime Mark and I had decided to make the most of the long weekend by getting out with the cameras: for the first time in ages the weather (read: “the light“) looked promising, and I was “gnawing the furniture“ desperate to get out.

So we picked yesterday, Sunday 31 March, as the best day according to the forecasts (which, as it turned out were wrong – it was beautifully sunny on Saturday, it’s lovely today, but Sunday was cloudy almost all day!), and the plan was to have a look at Howick Hall Gardens, the theory being that a dog-free private arboretum would be lifting with birds at this time of year.

But before we hit Howick, we had a look into Seahouses for the Eiders and – hopefully – the Long tailed ducks that were being reported. For the record, I saw ‘em but didn’t get any pictures.

The Eiders were as obliging as ever though, bless ‘em – these being just some of many nice pictures I got of this accommodating, characterful species:


Eider, Seahouses


Eider, Seahouses


Eider, Seahouses

Now, Mark is pretty friendly with one of the Farnes boat tour operators, Andrew of Serenity Boat Tours, and while having a word with him, came to the conclusion that we should jump on the 10:30 seal trip.

I’m the world’s worst sailor and usually need a seasickness tablet before I can even watch “Trawlermen“ on Dave TV, but it was flat calm and I love shooting seals, so ten minutes later Mark and I were at the bow of Serenity II (the catamaran – a nice, stable platform from which to wave a camera and lens around) heading for the islands.

Andrew didn’t let us down – he’s a great lad, and understands wildlife photographers. He really put himself out to get as close as he could to the subject matter, and I filled my boots (again, these being just a small sample – remember that I’m bouncing around on a small boat in the North Sea here, a huge challenge for kit and for technique):


Grey seals, Farnes


Grey seal, Farnes


Grey seal, Farnes


Grey seals, Farnes


Grey seal, Farnes


Grey seal, Farnes


Grey seal, Farnes


Grey seal, Farnes

What I will say is that it’s easier to shoot seals from a bouncing boat using a lightweight stabilised lens like the Canon 100-400mm rather than my (comparatively) big, heavy Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS and 1.4x converter, but I do like that lens. Even so, this realisation has motivated me finally to get my 100-400mm off to Fixation UK for a service.

Although the islands were still quiet, bird-wise, the auks were starting to come back:


Guillemot, Farnes

as were the Shags:


Shags, Farnes

I mention above that Andrew “gets” wildlife ‘togs: well, bless him, without any prior announcement he put us right on top of a (comparatively rare in this part of the world) Black guillemot or Tystie – a “lifer” for me:


Black guillemot, Farnes


Black guillemot, Farnes

That was really it for the islands. Sadly, I only saw four Puffins: there has been a recent wreck of these birds along the east coast, and I’d found more dead Puffins on the beach I was shooting the Eiders on than I saw live on the sea…

On to Howick. Lovely place, hardly any birds…

Closer to home we dropped into the QEII Park on the outskirts of Ashington, on the way to me picking up the 50 or 60 Waxwings that had been reliably reported in the town centre over the last few days.

The QEII lake has two wild but wonderfully tame Whooper swans on it, these birds happily associating with the lake’s umpteen Mute swans. The light was all wrong by this time, but I couldn’t resist a few pictures of such obliging and interesting birds:


Whooper swan, QEII, Ashington


Whooper swan, QEII, Ashington

I dipped on the Waxwings…

Just for thoroughness – and to emphasise the luck dimension that’s attached to wildlife photography – on the way up to our planned venues, Mark clocked a Barn owl on a post, right next to the road, somewhere between Ellington and Amble (yes, I’m being cagey about the location).

In the time it took for us to turn the car around, get the cameras out and drive back to where he’d seen it, the bird had moved down the fence and further into the field, but this was still the best chance I’d ever had at a photographable Barny, so with the 2x TC in place, I managed this and numerous other similar (and no, not very good!) pictures before it headed off:


Barn owl, Amble

So no, it’s not very good, but at least it’s my not very good, and not entirely terrible for a big crop at 600mm, handheld.

All of these images are with the Canon 7D and Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS and (except for the Barn owl which involves a 2x converter), the Sigma 1.4x.

Again, I find myself wondering how on earth wildlife photographers manage with “just” prime lenses. As you can see from the Exif in these pictures, I’ve gone from 235mm to 600mm, and this is the norm for me – I could not do without a zoom lens on my camera!

Conversions are with Photo Ninja, a converter which – as many reviews and testimonials will attest to – has a real look of its own and excellent detail rendition; and which often renders images with a depth – a 3D feel – which I like immensely.



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