Laggan

Laggan had broken his wing, possibly by flying into a telegraph wire, and is now being looked after at Wings Over Mull, a bird of prey conservation centre that we visit on the Orangepebble Photography tours. To get this close to such a magnificent bird is something unlikely to happen in the wild. These are birds of vast spaces, occupying the high mountains and crags of Scotland. We have seen them often in the wild, had wonderful encounters in Sutherland, Argyle and Mull and occasionally photographed them. The Golden Eagle remains, for me, the ultimate bird.

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What’s in a Bag?

It’s not a good moment when you arrive at a photographic job without a camera! I managed to blag my way out of it – another story – but your legs go weak and you are just hoping your in some kind of bad, really bad, dream. I was working as a very young medical photographer at the time and the department had ten ‘primed’ and ready to go camera bags so you could respond to any incident or request instantly. The bags were placed in reception and you would rush out picking one up on your way.

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Getting Up Close

Again a very drab day and a persistent drizzle. Two male Great-spotted Woodpeckers were chasing each other round the higher branches and the Treecreeper was in a fair amount today. Looking through the Home Farm files it’s interesting to note that out of 40 or so images filed under Great-spotted Woodpecker, only one of those is a female! Where then are the they?

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A Bit of Luck

I was at the feeding station today and all the regulars were present. On the way to the hide a Peregrine flew over, the fourth record for the Farm. The water level has dropped allowing the route through the river to be taken. Over the last few weeks the only way to the hide has been over the railway. The cows are all in for the winter now, so no chance of an unpleasant encounter! Last year Richard was unceremoniously dumped into the river as he tried to pass them under the bridge. They were a little frisky early on in the year but had settled down latterly.

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Another Place

Introduction – Nov 2008

The piece below was written in 2005 before Gormley’s Another Place’ had been purchased outright. It will now stay forever on this part of the Lancashire coast and has altered the way I feel about it. The space has changed, and until time eventually takes its toll on these sculptures, as it will do one day in the far off future, it will no longer be what it once was. I can no longer enjoy the wildness of this windswept beach, but then I couldn’t anyway as a large part of vista from the beach is interrupted by an invasion of coastal wind farms. I suppose nothing ever remains as it was, but when Art changes a space on such a huge scale I wonder if we have got something wrong. The title of the work itself, ‘Another Place’, perhaps suggests the need for it to move and grace another shore line somewhere else in the world and remain in the memory alone.

Adding to the landscape – Gormley’s ‘Another Place’

It is, by rights, something that I shouldn’t like. Gormley’s iron men break an otherwise expansive view across to the hills of North Wales. They occupy a space that has, since the Mersey has flown out into the Irish Sea, been people less. I have known this part of the coast all my life; bird watched in all weathers. The massive flocks of Knots and roosting Pink-footed Geese have inspired me to seek out wild places in Wales and Scotland. I go to such places to avoid crowds, to get away from a feeling of claustrophobia that so often grips me in places where people mass. The open spaces along this part of the West Lancashire coast has offered me solace and although close to a large urban populace, a sanction, where it is just possible to connect with the more natural processes that make us who we are.
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Building a Hide (part 1)

The feeding station hide, at Home Farm, was started in March of this year with a view to serious feeding in the autumn and winter. Before any thought went into how we were going to build it and what materials we were going to use we had to give a lot of consideration about where we would site it. The location for any fixed hide is crucial, as it is not a movable fixture, and once up, you are committed to its position. You will need to consider  a number of factors and spend some time around the general area before committing to anything permanent.

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A Sobering Thought

It’s a sobering thought when you realise that some of your photographs are moving into the realm of becoming historical. It’s inevitable, I know, when you have been taking photographs for over 30 years but somehow you always see your own images as being contemporary.

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Under Pressure

I am often asked if there is any occasion when I have felt under pressure when taking photographs of birds. On the whole I am fairly sanguine over what you get and what you miss, it’s part of the deal with this sort of photography, but there is a particular moment that comes to mind when I felt if I didn’t manage to secure a decent shot from this then I might as well give up.

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Losing the Label

I am currently reading Mark Cocker’s beautifully written book ‘Crow Country’ in which he goes in search of the Rooks and Jackdaws that he first encounters in the Yare Valley in Norfolk. There is a small paragraph towards the beginning of chapter six that should be read and digested by anyone who wants to look a little harder to find the extraordinary in the everyday. Although he is concerned with nature watching what he says can be applied to all aspects of looking.

‘… every time you pin a label on a living creature it reaffirms a sense of mastery over it. The naming of the thing gives you the wonderfully reassuring illusion that you know it. You don’t. Sometimes all you have is a single datum. The name. In a bizarre way, the process of recognition can actually be a barrier rather than a doorway to genuine appreciation’

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Entering the Personal Space

We all have a personal space. It’s the area immediately around us and other than those very close to us, we let no-one in. Good environmental portraiture and documentary photography demands that we enter this space and this is only possible if a standard or wide-angle lens is used.  It requires that the photographer communicates with the subject and gains their confidence.

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The Hallmark of a Bird

The Kingfisher is exotic. I remember seeing my first one around the Cob at Porthmadog. It was a long while ago now. It was only a glimpse but something you don’t forget. The words glimpse and Kingfisher seem to marry together frequently, so it was then….”did you see it?… just a glimpse – but that electric blue…..” That blue is its hallmark and I use the word in its literal meaning…’an official mark or stamp indicating a standard of purity’……’any mark or special indication of genuineness, good quality’……and perhaps even more telling….’any distinguishing feature or characteristic’ Only one other bird, in my opinion, has this hallmark, exhibiting such a vivid contrast in its plumage, when seen against the habitat it frequents and that’s the Gannet.

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The Herons Have It

It was interesting recently, when sorting out some images for a talk, to see that the bird I have photographed most since taking up bird photography a couple of years ago, is the Grey Heron. I began to think why this might be and if it reflected anything about myself or the bird or perhaps a little of both.

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Elusive Green Sandpiper

The feed is moving very quickly at the moment with the Nuthatches devouring the sunflower seeds and the tits ever present. Interestingly the Marsh Tit appears to have the least discerning diet of all our visitors! It will have a bit of everything – sunflower, mixed seed, niger seed, fat balls, nuts and cake. Today the species seen at the feeding station hide were as follows:

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Roll on Winter

Down to the farm today mainly to fill up the feeders but also spent about 3 hours in the feeding station hide. The light was good, bright but not full sun, which can cause difficulties with regard to exposure as the light is broken by the foliage and some unwanted shadows are created. The leaves are falling fast at the moment and each visit opens up more branches and extends the areas that you are able photograph. Also the backgrounds are becoming less cluttered – so roll on the winter!

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Building a Narrative – Making Sense of Your Holiday Images

So often, on returning from a holiday or expedition, people are heard to say, ‘ These pictures don’t do justice to the experience!’ Don’t be in this position again!

Over the years photography has been a great way to tell a story. Its zenith occurred during the rise of the picture magazines like Life and Picture Post and of course all moving images are in reality a vast sequence of stills! A narrative suggests that the event photographed will have a beginning, a middle and an end. The time scale that this occurs within does not matter at all. The narrative can occur over a few seconds, minutes, hours or days.

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The Farm

I have been working on Home Farm for about six months now. It is in the Vale of Glamorgan and on the River Ely. We, Richard and I, have been fortunate to find a farmer who is sympathetic to the wildlife on his land and has allowed us to build hides and have total access to all his land so that we can record and compile a list of the wildlife that is typical of a mixed farm in this area. This blog will chronicle the farm through the seasons and aim to show what we are up to and the species we are recording. There will be a little retrospective blogging initially to update on what has occurred so far. It is proving to be a fantastic opportunity and one that we intend to grow into a full survey of this part of the Vale.Continue reading

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