Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Close-up Wildlife Photography’ 18 March 2014 presented by Paul Wilkins

Daytime Workshop: ‘ Close-up Wildlife Photography’ : held at The United Reformed Church, Grove Street on Tuesday 18 March 2014 presented by Paul Wilkins

Twelve members attended this workshop, to discuss some of the best ways to take close-up photographs of all kinds of our native wildlife, from insects such as moths and butterflies to mosses and lichens. The workshop started with an introduction to the types of cameras and how to use them to their best ability, such as using the zoom facility on a compact camera to reduce the depth of field and thus avoid a cluttered and distracting background, or using a macro lens on a digital SLR camera. I expressed my preference for the 'bridge' camera which I consider gives the best of both worlds by providing good results for both close-up and telephoto photography.

The challenges of close-up photography were discussed. These included how to deal with 'shallow' depth of field and make the best use of it in your photographs, how to make use of different shutter speeds to increase exposure of static subjects like fungi and lichens or 'freeze' moving subject like insects. A tripod, monopod or even a 'stick' was recommended as an essential piece of equipment to ensure that your camera is held still, ensuring your photographs are sharp. Another useful tip was to use of a stick and a clothes peg to hold a flower or grass stem still while you're photographing it.

I suggested that if you used the camera's 'self-timer' whilst taking a close-up photograph of a static subject you can avoid moving the camera when you press the shutter.  I also made members aware of the 'spot focus' setting on their cameras to ensure their subject was in focus especially when re-composing their image, and demonstrated this technique.

I also showed members other useful pieces of equipment that can be used for close-up wildlife photography such as a Ring Flash, backgrounds in the form of logs, bark and coloured card and a homemade light-box for photographing 'leaf-mines'.

The workshop concluded with a discussion on cataloguing and 'tagging' your photographs with 'keywords' for retrieval later on and the use of other software such as photograph 'stacking' software which allows you to create one very sharp image from a number of individually focused images of the same subject.

Paul Wilkins

Bird Song Group Trip Report

Bird Song Skills Improvement Group:
Forest of Dean    22nd March 2014

Highlights include a target species Hawfinch in the beech trees below Parkend Church. Here up to 20 illusive birds moved through the treetops constantly making sharp and high-pitched “tic” contact calls, although some of us needed to be close to hear these. This is a reliable location for this species and finding them was not really surprising.  However while searching larch woods for illusive Crossbills at Serridge Ridge, we were treated to a real surprise, with first the call and then a brief but splendid view of Goshawk, a large female as she flew low over us.

At Crabtree Hill there is a large clearing with debris of felled trees. Here we quickly located a long staying Great Grey Shrike. Apparently this bird had been reported as singing on the 15th although on our visit the bird was not heard. We did though have another unexpected find here, Woodlark, ascending in silence from the same area as the shrike. We subsequently heard the flight calls as two Woodlarks flew past us, but no full song.  Perhaps the birds will summer here?

During our walk we enjoyed hearing and watching a number of passerines that are commonly found in the forest including Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Crossbills, Song Thrush and Blackbird. At Cannop Ponds, we encountered several wildfowl species including a Little Grebe that called just once, and around the bird feeders by the Stone Works Grey Wagtail, Dunnock and more Siskins. My bird list for the day totalled a very respectable 43. 

The SIG will be back in the Forest of Dean in May visiting Nagshead RSPB reserve for Pied Flycatchers and warblers.

Lucy Delve

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Trip Report 12 March Combe Hay

Wed 12 March   Combe Hay  (leaders Rod and Liz Thomas supported by Alan Rayner)

Photo left Candle snuff and Brachythecium

On a cold misty morning 18 people gathered at Rowley House in Combe Hay for a local walk. The president began by identifying some flourishing and extensive moss cover in the lawn-including pointed spear moss (Calliergonella cuspidata) and springy turf moss (Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus). Alan, encouraging people to use his hand lens (and showing photos from “the brick”, a heavy tome on mosses) was a huge help and indeed delight, throughout the walk.
We looked inside a beehive where most of the bees were clustered in the hive but a number of workers could be seen at the top, feeding on a block of fondant, a winter supplement occasionally needed. On the drive there were beautiful examples of some grey lichens growing on ash trees, in an elliptical pattern as the trees grow faster than the lichen (Lecidella elaeochroma and Arthonia radiata) (see photo). We also saw a mistle thrush from the drive and clearly heard its wild ringing spring song. There were more impressive examples of hanging tufts of lichens on a blackthorn (Ramalina farinacea and Evernia prunastri, or oak moss).
As we walked along the old railway line we saw flocks of redwings, heard several bird songs including song thrush, greenfinch, goldfinch and goldcrest. There were many more luxurious growths of mosses, such as the bonsai- like foxtail feather-moss (Thamnobryum alopecurum) and Tamarisk moss (Thuidium tamariscinum) ( Photo). Here there was also Candle snuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon), which had turned black, surrounded by rough-stalked feather-moss (Brachythecium rutabulum) with its pale tips (photo).
There were several spring flowers identified. In a number of sites, for example on the south facing cutting, there were the bright violet flowers of  early dog violet (Viola reichenbachia) and also white and violet flowers of sweet violet (V. odorata). On an old fence post at the side of the footpath there was a microcosm of nature with a collection of common pincushion mosses (Dicranoweisia cirrata) and Cladonia lichens, even more wonderful with a lens (see photo). One of us said it was magical and then made a quick correction – not magic but nature.  Alan reminded us of William Blake’s words: “But to the eyes of a man of imagination, nature is imagination itself “.
There was too much to list here, from a round mouth snail to the mandible of a fox and we heard a single hoot of a tawny owl. While crossing the stream at the hairpin bend of the Combe Hay locks, known as the Bull’s Nose, most people had a good view of a grey wagtail. In the beech wood, known as Engine Wood, there were more mosses including the uncommon squirrel tail moss (Leucodon sciuroides) (photo). Also we heard and saw more goldcrests flitting restlessly in the trees and ivy (in all 21 species of bird were identified).
As we returned we passed a beautiful multi-coloured gathering of turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) on a stump at the bottom of the drive. Finally, as we approached the cars, the president confirmed what he had privately suspected. There was an extensive growth of squirrel tail moss on the drive; jokingly this area was declared an SSSI and therefore closed to vehicles!
Despite the low temperature, the morning seemed to be enjoyed by everyone.

                        Common pincushion and Cladonia          Lecidella and Arthonia

                                Squirrel-tail moss                                 Tamarisk moss

Thanks to Rod and Liz Thomas