Catching the Sunrise

Yesterday, I decided that I’d climb Pen y Fan to take some photos as the sun was rising, The weather forecast was good, I was in the right mood.

The Plan:

Get up at 5am, make a snack breakfast, walk Rufus (as he would be house sitting), set off at around 5.45 top get to the car park for 6.45. This would give me a good hour to get to the ridge where I would be able to set up and wait for the first golden rays of sunlight to hit the southern faces of Pen y Fan and Corn Du. Then, a quick stroll to the summit of Pen y Fan itself before heading back to the car and the journey home. I expected to be back starting 2nd breakfast by 10.30am.

The Reality:

I woke up at 4am and dozed fitfully until 4.45 when I finally gave up and got up. There was much huffing and puffing from Rufus, who had clearly found the most comfortable, warm and cosy spot ever just before I disturbed him. Breakfast was thrown together (scones, of course) and Rufus had some gourmet concoction which included chicken. Then we went out for a short walk around the block, sharing the pavement with two foxes who didn’t seem too worried by our presence. I often take Rufus out before work and I love the bits of our walk where there are no streetlights, as the stars seem to shine much more brightly. Orion was just sinking in the west as we walked. Rufus decided to check every blade of grass for evidence of other dogs so by the time we got back to the house, it was 5.50am. I could already see the plan starting to go wrong.

I managed to set of just after 6am and the streets were clear of traffic as I drove through Swansea and off to the north. Of course, once I left the dual carriageway I hit traffic in the form of a slow lorry. The temperature was below freezing and the road narrow so I couldn’t overtake. I managed to get to the car park at about 7am.

It wasn’t quite dark, so I didn’t need a torch. I set off up the path and with my goal of beating the sunrise, I set a good pace for the first 10 minutes. I hadn’t done any preparation for this walk and the last time I climbed Pen y Fan was in August and I quickly realised the pace I set wasn’t the right pace. A short stop, a rethink and a couple of photos later, I was on my way at a much more realistic speed. As the light levels increased, the view to Fan Fawr and the west was beautiful, with a gorgeous pre-dawn light bathing the hills. But ahead, I could just make out mist covering Corn Du. As I got further up the hill, the mist came further down to meet me. With 10 minutes to go before the sunrise, I entered the clouds. By the time I got the the ridge where I had planned to see the first golden rays of sunlight, all I could see was 10m of the path either side of me. But I had made it there with 5 minutes to spare.

I decided that to have any chance of seeing any golden rays, I’d need to be on Pen y Fan itself so without waiting, I set off. As I walked along the side of Corn Du I noticed the path ahead of me light up as if someone had switched on a street light. The ground here is red sandstone so even though I couldn’t see the actual sunrise, the red dawn light was making the path shine. I looked over to my right and there was a large patch of orange red mist. No sun, though.

On Pen y Fan, I had the summit to myself. There was a thick white frost on everything, making the stone path very slippery. After a couple of  photos, I went to take a drink. As I took my back pack off, the wind picked up until within a minute it was blowing hard enough that I had to brace myself to stop being blown over. The wind was sharp and icy and I decided not to hang around on the top of the clouds to clear. I caught a glimpse of blue sky as the clouds sped over  the summit but I was already heading back down again.

I quickly dropped down below the clouds and the wind dropped again so that it became pleasant walking. By now, the light on the hills opposite was exactly as I’d hoped I would see on the summit and I stopped frequently to take photos. I stopped to chat with a guy climbing up to work on the paths and he asked me about the conditions on the summit. He said he wasn’t going there himself but he wanted to advise people who were going up as more often than not they were unprepared for the reality of a mountain in winter. I chatted to another guy who was planning on picking up rubbish on the way down. Then I reached the relative warmth car park and a few minutes later, I was heading home.

I managed to get the cooked breakfast going by 10.15 and I was sat down eating it by 10.45.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Kingfisher

With the hound temporarily grounded, I thought I’d pop out to do a little wildlife photography early in the morning. Wildlife doesn’t like Rufus, although as you can read here, Rufus loves wildlife. So If I’m out with him, the wildlife tends to run away and I’m left with photos whose titles are “Branch where the Heron was”, “Very blurred rabbit” and “Deer bums disappearing into the woods”.

One of my goals is to photograph the Kingfishers in Penllegare. I set the challenge last year and although I caught a glimpse of a pair several times, I never managed to get the camera near my eye, let alone a picture. Kingfishers are very nervous – I guess if you were dressed up in bright blue and orange and people kept pointing huge lenses at you, you’d be nervous too. They disappear with a shrill warning cry at the slightest hint of a photographer. So, resigned to a fruitless search with a blurred glimpse of blue and orange and a photograph with the title “Branch on which the Kingfisher perched”, I decided to try my luck once more. Just after dawn, with the birds still loudly celebrating the sunrise, I set off along the path by the lake at Penllegare.

I took some photos of the mist rising from the lake as the sun lit the tops of the trees. Whilst I was distracted by this landscape, a heron took off and flew lazily off towards the lower lake. I hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come. I walked along the lake, then past the waterfall and down to the River Llan. This part of the river is shaded and there are a number of natural perches for Kingfishers to use while waiting to catch fish. It’s hard to approach this area covertly; I’d have to dress in camouflage gear and crawl.

It was cold out of the sun, and after about 20 minutes, I decided to turn back for the car and head off to Mumbles to try and catch the seals in the bay. I walked quite quickly back along the river and besides the lake. I was taking a few snapshots of the ducks when a movement caught my eye. A blue and orange movement. I looked up to see a small, brightly coloured bird sat on a branch across the lake. Fortunately, I was next to a tree and although it spotted me and flew up into the branches of a bush, it didn’t fly away completely. I slowly moved towards the tree, keeping the trunk between me and the Kingfisher and hoping it hadn’t disappeared.

As I peered around the trunk, camera and 300mm lens in hand, I couldn’t see the Kingfisher. I’d obviously scared it off. I thought it would be worth waiting a few minutes and so I stood motionless next to the tree with the camera hiding most of my face. I used the lens to scan the opposite bank and occasionally looked around in case it had appeared on my side of the lake. It would be somewhat annoying (to say the least) if the Kingfisher was sat next to me and I didn’t check.

After another scan, I looked back and there it was, back in the bushes. It was easy to make out with the naked eye as the colours clashed with the green of the foliage. I raised the camera slowly and started to take photos. The light levels were low as the sun hadn’t risen high enough to illuminate that side of the lake so I was shooting with the sensitivity of the camera dialled up to ISO3200. Even then, the shutter speed was low enough to risk camera shake, and with the sensitivity causing noise in the final image, I didn’t hold out much hope for usable pictures.

At one point, as I was watching with the camera down, the Kingfisher dived into the water and back out again. It was so quick I barely moved the camera. It shifted its perch to a larger branch closer to the water and I got some more images. It was great just watching this beautiful bird and eventually I stopped taking photos and just enjoyed the moment.

Suddenly, something disturbed the Kingfisher and it flew off – towards me. It disappeared behind reeds and grass off to my left and I slowly and silently made my way to where I thought it was. Even though I was anticipating it flying off again, it went so quickly that I was only able to get a couple of snap shots off and all of them show a blurred blue object low over the water.

Next time, I’ll be there with tripod and longer lens.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rufus and Dave’s fortnight of fun part 2a: Webs

We had an earlier start today as it’s due to be a busy one. Rufus and I headed down to Broadpool to sample the early morning before anyone could spoil it. An amazing sight confronted us once we’d parked up; as far as the eye could see there were masses of cobwebs shining in the morning sun. Every one had tiny dewdrops hanging from them. The thorn bushes were white with fine threads. I tried to find the best way to take photos if it and struggled.

Rufus, of course, walked through them on his quest to find the source of all the smells he could detect.

We made our way slowly around the pool. I had hoped to catch dragonflies and damselflies warming up in the sunshine but they were all well concealed. There were plenty of midges, though, early risers like us.

We didn’t stay out too long as we both had to be back. Rufus has his hair stylist appointment this morning and I wanted to give him time to dry off. And I’m picking up my new car while he’s being pampered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dawn Chorus

I love the early morning, except when I have to go to work. At all other times, early morning, before people are fully awake, is the best time to take notice of your surroundings without the distractions of traffic and people. If you’re that way inclined, wildlife is more abundant. It’s the best time to photograph insects as they are still trying to warm up in the sun and so are quite sluggish. The dawn chorus welcomes in the day and when the weather is fine, you can’t beat this time of the day.

Today, Rufus and I went out to take advantage of the early morning sun. Off we headed to a relatively new location near Betws Mountain. Despite the sheep, I was able to find an area where I could let Rufus off the lead and we wander slowly through the trees towards the Upper Lliw Reservoir. All around, birds were singing but rather than a cacophony of sound, it was a gentle back drop to the trees, gently swaying in the breeze.

The sun was still low and casting an orange glow on the tree trunks. A curious lamb decided to take a closer look at Rufus (on the lead again) and me but got last minute nerves and bounded off back to its mother. In a small puddle, there were a lot of tadpoles well on their way to becoming frogs, and a number of waterboatmen floated on the surface of the water.

Through a gap in the trees, I spotted what looked like an old picnic table so on the way back we too a diversion through a rough avenue of trees and sure enough, there was a small clearing with three tables. The clearing had seen better days, it was overgrown and boggy in places and the tables were in need of some care too, but we spent a few minutes listening to the sounds of the woods and enjoying the sunshine. Rufus explored the edges of the clearing while I managed to get some snaps of a Mistle Thrush gathering grass for a nest.

Then we tried to find a path out of the clearing and managed to keep reasonably dry as we went back up the hill to the stile and the waiting car. You can’t beat a lovely early summer’s morning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Early morning

I’m up at the crack of dawn for work. Most mornings, it’s dark. Recently it’s been dark and wet. But this morning, there was a little more light in the sky than there has been of late. I was intrigued and when I looked out of the window I could see the sky was cloud frees, and there was a faint glow on the eastern horizon.

But better than a clear sky, there was the moon and Venus close together. I abandoned thoughts of breakfast and grabbed my camera. I spent 10 minutes snapping away.

After breakfast, and just before I left for work, I took another series of photos. The difference in the brightness of the sky was dramatic.

I varied the exposures on both sessions. The moon is a sunlit landscape so I manually set the exposure to record that. But in one photos, you can see I’ve exposed for the earth shine – the glow of the earth’s reflected light on the moon. The crescent lit by the sun is over exposed, as is Venus.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ghosts in the mist

Early start for Rufus and me today as we headed off to Cefn Bryn before dawn. I was inspired by Kate’s photos of Broadpool and decided to try and get some misty photos for myself. It also meant Rufus would get a decent walk in one of his favourite spots. With only a cup of coffee to wake me up, we were off. The moon and Venus were up in the eastern sky but there was no sign of the sun as we made our way towards Gower.

I was momentarily disheartened as we passed through a heavy shower, but it cleared up by the time I parked the car on Cefn Bryn. In the dark, we headed out towards Arthur’s Stone. I could hear Rufus splashing through puddles and mud ahead but could barely see despite my head torch. Some slopping and slipping was inevitable, but we were soon through the band of marsh and back on firm ground again.

By the time we got to the Stone, a faint dawn light was making the going easier, but there was no mist. I set the camera on the tripod with the timer and set about taking some pictures. I experimented with painting the stone with the light from the head torch, but by now there was a strong pre-dawn light. But I did find that a ghostly version of me was appearing in some of the shots. So I deliberately set out to get a ghost image of Rufus and me.

From there, we headed down towards Fairwood Common, another regular destination. The mist was thick around here and the sun was coming up. But I’d had my opportunity to take photos and now it was Rufus’ turn to get the attention. I managed a few snapshots, and Rufus managed to explore most of the ground north of the road.

Finally, we got back home and had a slap up cooked breakfast.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chance of Frost

After Wednesday’s joyful stroll in the worst kind of weather, I was determined to go back to the waterfall we found to get a proper look and get some decent photographs. Watching the weather forecast, Saturday morning was looking good apart from one slight technicality – frost and ice. The road to the start of the walk is narrow, high up and exposed. It’s situations like this that make me realise I really need a 4×4 as I find myself more and more in places where there is some uncertainty about being able to get there or, more importantly, get away from there.

So Rufus and I set out really early and slipped and slid our way alongside the River Tawe – more of a large stream at this point – until we found a suitable parking spot. (Of course, if I had a 4×4, anywhere would be suitable). Wellies on (essential for croossing the stream) and we were off up the hillside towards the waterfalls.

It was a beautiful morning. The sky was clear, the air was crisp and a thick frost underfoot took care of the mud. As we started up the hill, the golden sun poked it’s head over the hilltop behind us and we began to warm up. Overhead, people flew to or from America.

We very quickly reached the first waterfall, and while Rufus dredged the stream bed, I set up the camera and started to snap away. We moved slowly up the course of the stream, which was swollen with water from the recent rain. The rising sun partially lit the waterfalls but cast an annoying shadow too. Nevertheless, I got some great photos.

With a combination of several neutral density filters I was getting exposure times of 30 seconds or so and Rufus realised early on that this meant less time for stone throwing. So as I set the camera up for yet another picture, he stood on a rock in the stream and encouraged me with some a couple of well timed barks. It was no good, stones had to be thrown!

After an hour or so, we headed back down to the road and the Tawe and I rewarded Rufus’ patience with a lot more stone throwing and some swimming. We headed back to the car happy and content, with one of us being a little more wet than the other.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.