Kingfisher 2

This morning, despite the threat of rain, I returned to Penllegare to try and get some more photos of the Kingfisher. I was later than I’d planned on being as Rufus and I had a lie in. When I got to the lake, there were dog walkers already around which didn’t bode well for spotting timid wildlife. But fortunately, the Kingfisher felt safe across the lake and there it was, not far from the waterfall.

This time I had a longer lens with me, and a monopod to rest it on. Even so, this was a difficult ask of the lens, an old Sigma 170-500mm zoom, and the light levels were low which meant high ISO and borderline shutter speeds. I snapped away for a few minutes before watching the Kingfisher fly off as a dog charged around me. Frustrated rather than annoyed, I strolled down to the waterfall, hoping that the Kingfisher would return after a few minutes and resume its fishing.

I walked back to the tree I’d hidden behind last week and only just in time, as the heavens opened and the lake turned into a sea of ripples and splashes. I was nicely sheltered under the tree and the enforced wait of five minutes or so meant there was more chance of seeing the Kingfisher again. The rain also meant less likelihood of walkers disturbing us.

Sure enough, as I walked back to the place where I’d first spotted a pair of Kingfishers, ages ago, there it was again. This time I managed to get relatively close, using another tree as cover. I’m sure the bird was aware of my presence, as at one point it was staring directly at me for several seconds. But it was more interested in fishing, and it dived off the branch and back up again is an instant, returning with a little fish in its beak.

I watched for several minutes as it held the fish and manoeuvred it so that it could swallow it whole. Once again, I stopped taking photos so I could actually enjoy watching this colourful bird.

Then a large, boisterous Dalmatian turned up and my viewing was over for the day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Advertisements

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.

The day after yesterday

Yesterday was the opening game of the 2015 Six Nations rugby tournament, with England beating Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. I watched the game on TV from my personal box, with a strong cup of tea by my side. I live life on the edge.

This morning, I took the early train to Cardiff as I wanted to visit the museum to see an exhibition on early photography. More of that later. The train was empty, despite being an Intercity service going to London. When I got to Cardiff, I found that it, too was quiet. The only people around seemed to be the people heading off to open up and run shops. It was clear that everyone else was indoors, recovering from the night before.

It was cold and grey in the capital, and after a reviving cup of coffee, I set off for Jessops, the photographic retailer. After they went bust a few years ago, the brand was sold and a few of the shops were reopened. Cardiff has such a store. I ended up having a chat with one of the salesmen there as it turned out he went to college in Swansea, where I was a technician in the photography department. We shared some stories and caught up with the whereabouts of some of the tutors. It was a breath of fresh air, and there was no sense of sales pitching at all. I always liked the staff in Jessops, and I’m glad the brand has been resurrected.

Then it was on to the museum and straight to the exhibition. A large proportion of the displayed photographs were from or by John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his sister, Mary. JDL was an early pioneer of photography in Britain and was a contemporary of Fox Talbot, to whom he was related by marriage. His earliest images date back to 1840. His mansion at Penllegare was the centre of his photographic endeavours, and the house and grounds feature often as subjects. If you go along to Penllegare Woods to day (and you should, it’s a great place to visit), you can see many of the places and subjects JDL photographed. The mansion, sadly, is gone and the beautiful ornamental gardens are over grown but volunteers are working to restore parts of the grounds to their former state.

Some of the images on display were from the 1850s and it was amazing to see people staring out from 164 years ago. There were familiar sights – Caswell and Three Cliffs Bay, Tenby, Swansea docks and, as mentioned, Penllegare woods.

In the early days of photography the film wasn’t sensitive enough to freeze any kind of motion, so there are photographs of sailing ships in Swansea docks where their movement on the water has blurred the masts and completely hidden the rigging. It meant that people sitting for portraits had to stay motionless for up to several minutes. Neck braces were used to help keep people still. Some of the pioneering work JDL was doing was developing more sensitive films, cutting the exposure time to seconds and making possible more natural looking poses

Other photographers were represented too, some amateur, some professional. The images ranged from studio portraits to reportage and historical records. Some of the equipment and cameras used by JDL and his contemporaries were on display too. The early cameras were crude wooden boxes that weren’t immediately identifiable as photographic tools.

I enjoyed the exhibition and the fascinating insight to the early days of photography it gave. I wish there had been more photographs on display, though.

Rufus and I tend to visit the same places when we go walking. I try to vary our routes as much as I can and I’m always on the lookout for new places to go. I like to make sure that Rufus is walking (ideally off the lead) for longer than we are in the car. It’s usually easy enough to manage.

Today we tried a new route. We’ve been to the Forestry Commission wood at Penllegare before but today we walked further into the forest alongside the railway line and then turned left to follow an almost invisible path between the trees as it climbed up and away from the rails. Before long we could hear the unmistakeable sound of waterfalls. Both Rufus’ and my ear twitched. Rufus loves the water and I love waterfalls so we were both happy when we suddenly came across a series of steps in the river that made for a picturesque cascade. It looked semi natural, as if someone had enhanced what was already there. I guess this bit of the woods was once part of the Penllegare estate before the artificial barriers of the railway and the motorway chopped the forest in two.

Not having expected to see anything worthy of more than a snapshot, I only had a point and shoot camera with me. It’s a great camera, but for scenes like this I prefer to take my time using a DSLR or similar, and a tripod. So I took some snapshots and made a mental note to return as soon as practical with something that would give me more control. Rufus, with no such considerations, paddled and splashed and waded like a pro, which of course he is.

We climbed up above the river and followed it’s little valley for a bit before leaving it behind and heading back into the trees. Now we were walking through a wild looking forest, following a hint of a path through mud, brambles and over fallen trees. Then we emerged onto a wide forestry track. The sun was out and despite a cool breeze, it was warm as we climbed the gentle slope along the track. We had the woods to ourselves as we ambled along and I let Rufus decide the route when we came to forks in the path. Finally, after another squelch along a narrow path, we came to a gate and although there were no signs forbidding entry, I decided it was time to head back to the car.

The journey back was a bit quicker and we stuck to the track when the turning into the woods came along. By now we were passing other dog walkers, joggers and would be joggers. We dropped back down into the car park and after some reluctance of Rufus’ part to get into the back, we set off for home and a well earned lunch.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Penllergare

I belong to a camera club in work. And this morning, we had arranged for a visit to Penllergare woods, complete with a guided tour around the formal gardens. I’ve been going to the woods for years, first with Rufus before major restoration work had begun, and lately in my quest for a photograph of the Kingfishers. I’ve been interested in the history of the site but today was an opportunity to get some specific information about the places I’d walked. As it turned out, I discovered some new places, too.

We set off from the car park, past the cafe and down to the upper lake via the terraces. These are large steps in the hillside leading down from Penllergare House, the home of the Dillwyn Llewelyns, that were lined with ornamental urns. The view down to the upper lake, slowly being cleared of decades of silt and vegetation, were striking. Our guide explained that when they started clearing away the undergrowth, paths steps and stone lining started appearing and it was a process of discovery to see how the gardens had been laid out. Much of the work is restoration rather than creation and the aim is to have the gardens looking very similar to how they would have in the mid 19th Century.

We gathered around the waterfall for a photo shoot and were shown the new bridge, constructed from stone cut and laid by the project’s stone mason. Holes have been left in the stonework for birds to nest in. A short walk along the river bank brought us back to the top of the terraces, and the bridal way that once led from Cadle to Penllergare House.

Dillwyn Llewelyn was a keen photographer right at the start of photography, and he was related to Fox Talbot. This means that there are many contemporary images of the house and gardens which has helped enormously during the restoration work. He was also an astronomer and the remains of his observatory, where the first photograph of the moon was taken, is being restored as part of the Penllergare project.

A lot more information about the Penllergare site and the trust can be found on their official website.

A (much too) brief stop at the cafe for coffee and an excellent, locally made scone ended the morning. I found the tour fascinating and discovered some new places to explore the next time I visit.

I still didn’t see any Kingfishers, though.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Heron

Awake early and with the prospect of wind and rain, I set off for Penllegare woods again in the hope of spotting the elusive Kingfishers. As soon as I saw the river, swollen with yesterday’s heavy rain, I knew they wouldn’t be around. Kingfishers prefer a gentle flow that they can dive into; this would have swept them downstream in an instant. So I headed off along the river bank and was rewarded almost immediately by the presence of a robin, which came towards me and my camera as if it wanted to appear in this blog!

Once again, the birdsong was loud and continuous. I’m useless at identifying birds by their singing but even I recognised the blackbirds, and this was confirmed by the numbers hopping about on the ground searching for food.

But then my attention was caught by a long neck, grey feathers and sleek head and as I looked, the heron leapt into the air and flew off along the river.  I watched it head off over the trees and managed a couple of snapshots as it made off. I love herons and despite seeing quite a few around the area, have rarely managed to get photos of them as they are so shy and cautious.

I carried on into the woods and across a recently restored bridge to walk on the opposite bank of the river for a bit. The Rhododendrons are starting to bloom and I found one tree that had bright red flowers, very much like the ones I saw in Nepal in 2011.

With the first drops of rain, I decided to turn back for the car and I retraced my steps across the bridge and along the side of a small lake. Suddenly, I spotted the familiar shape and colour of the heron again. I was surprised to see it as I thought it would have left the area. I stopped still and it eyed me up from the lakeside. I managed to slowly raise the camera without spooking it, and took a few photos. Then I moved gently so there was a large tree trunk between me and the heron, and slowly crept forward.

As I emerged from behind the tree, I had time for two quick photos before the heron took off but I followed it to see that it had only flown a few yards down the path. So I continued to slowly and quietly make my way along towards it, keeping bushes and trees and other cover between me and it. Had anyone been watching, they would have wondered what I was up to.

And then there it was, eyeing me up as I stood with the camera to my eye. I guessed that the camera partially blocked my face and may have confused the heron, as I was able to creep a little closer. I managed to snap a few more frames before I saw the bird tense up and launch into the air and fly off again, this time high up over the trees opposite where I stood. I decided not to wait around as I didn’t want to disturb the bird any more than I already had.

Still didn’t see any Kingfishers though.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A walk in the woods

Around 150 years ago, John Dillwyn Llewelyn created a vast landscaped garden at his home in Penllegare, to the west of Swansea. Over the years since his death, the land went to ruin and was forgotten. Now a dedicated bunch of volunteers are working hard to restore the gardens to their former glory.

I walk there a lot and have done for a number of years, so I’ve seen the changes as they’ve been made. Last year, I caught a brief glimpse of Kingfishers on the river and since then I’ve been popping down every now and again to see if I can catch a photo of them.

This morning, before much of the world had woken up, I was walking alongside the upper lake. The work done to clear this part of the garden is immense but I fear the downside is that where the Kingfishers used to catch insects on the river has now been exposed to everyone and his dog, and combined with the activity to clear the area has scared them off. Nevertheless, the walk is lovely and with no one else around, the sounds of a myriad of different birds is great to experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.