Birdwatching in the UK

It was a lovely surprise to find how plentiful the variety of birds were when we went birdwatching in the UK over the holidays. And such a tonic as the few months building up to the holidays were high stress and very busy, hence me being absent for so long.

Most of my time was taken up with knitting a shawl for my mother-in-law for her Christmas present. It’s my own fault really, I am not a fast knitter but because I waited until October to start I was dedicating up to 8 hours a day. I did not take after my Grandma, who could knit up a cricket jumper for my dad in a week, including cables! So I would be knitting like a mad woman at a somewhat snail’s pace.

It was the smallest yarn I’ve used to date. I had to wear my readers over my bifocals to see what I was doing. Thankfully I had it done in time and she loved it.

That meant, by the time we arrived in the UK, I was ready for a break and relaxation. Because the winters there are so mild, we spent a lot of time outside. Where we live currently, the winters are harsh and bitterly cold most of the time so we were wandering round without many layers while the locals were in their arctic fur. I felt hot most of the time! Makes for a welcome break in the winter.

Being able to spend so much time outside allowed for some really good birdwatching. I know in the UK the songbird population has taken quite a hit but compared to where we live, it was wonderful hearing all the different songs.

There were three main spots where I had the best luck. The first spot was at Harmon’s Cross. Swanage Railway had a winter event that they put on before they start the January maintenance. The times between the trains was enough that we found ourselves with an empty platform. There was a spot where bird feed was left out and the birds were flitting about. I stood very still and I was rewarded.

This blackbird was doing its best to eat all the birdseed.
A Chaffinch
The Blue Tit proved to be elusive. I have loads of blurry pics of this bird.

My mother-in-law took us twice to the RSPB Arne in Dorset. It’s an incredible conservation area that covers many different types of environments. You have woodland, grassland, heather, water, etc. Such a variety of birds to find.

At the car park, they had several feeders and it was like rush hour with the songbirds rapidly flitting in and out. Again I took loads of pics in the hope I could get some good ones. I’m amazed, given the speed of some, that they managed to actually get bird seed.

I particularly like the Goldfinch, the colours are gorgeous.
A Nuthatch
A Coal Tit in the front with a Goldfinch looking to land.
A House Sparrow (which looks like a mini hawk) and a female Chaffinch.
This Robin was eye level and only a few feet away giving us quite the concert.
A Pheasant minding his own business as we walked by.

The areas for watching birds in the water were breathtaking. It was so calming just sitting in a hide and watching them go about their day.

A Shelduck looking for a spot to land.
The white bird is an Avocet which is making a comeback in the UK. It is surrounded by Eurasian Wigeons and there is actually a Common Teal Duck in the mix.
An Oyster Catcher making a graceful landing.
The Curlews are funny looking things.

We did see spoon bills but they were too far away for me to capture clearly with my 300mm lens. We discovered that many birds were just beyond my lens. I would love to hear from those that do bird photography, the pros and cons of a teleconverter vs a 150mm-600mm lens. Trying to decide which direction to go in.

The end of the holiday was spent in London with my son as he had to get back to school. I was taking him to Churchill’s War Rooms and we cut through St James Park. I was taken aback at all the different birds there. I only used my phone for these pictures as I wanted to make sure my son had time at the War Rooms. If I’d taken out my proper camera, we would have been there a long time.

My mother-in-law had joked I needed to get pictures of pelicans. Imagine my surprise at seeing pelicans in the middle of London.

A Tufted Duck
Tame Greylag Geese and Ring Necked Parakeets

We also saw a Black Swan, Blue Heron, some Coots, Barnacle Geese and Moor hens.

I can’t wait to explore more RSPB areas and coastal walks. We will probably have to do a boat trip along the cliffs in Dorset as that’s what you have to do to see Puffins. That would be fascinating.

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Oooh I Got a Photo Light Box for Christmas!

On my Christmas list was a tripod for my camera because once winter comes and the dark night starts way too early my photos start getting bad.  I’m faced with countless photos ranging from way out of focus to just on the shaky side and I’m stuck trying to pick the best ones.  Forget natural light because it’s dark by then.  I did have one person say just turn out the lights you’ll be fine.  It was dark.

My lovely husband went a step further and bought me a light box kit!

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I was so excited to try this out and got the chance to yesterday.  My goal is to improve my photography skills so I can hold my own with Roger at Food, Photography, & France and Stefan at My French Heaven.  Their styles are what is in my head when I envision what I want my photos to look like.  My plan, once the tree is removed is to set up a mini photo studio in the round part of the parlor so when the natural light is available I can use it and when it’s not the box will be set up.  For the photos I took, the light is as it is shown above.

I took a few pictures in the window as finally we saw some sun!  The first one is in direct sun which can be very harsh but works for some things and the second in indirect light for comparison.

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With experimenting I found it to be very interesting.  One, because I’ve never actually taken a course, I have a steep learning curve.  Not surprisingly my best photos are outside where it is hard to screw up nature.  Right now using automatic settings worked best.

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But I played around the manual settings to see what happened.  I find I need to be more patient as the longer exposures came out blurry.  Turns out I’d set it up and click the remote without letting the camera stop moving.  I may have to get a sturdier tripod but I want to see if I can make this one work first because it is a good size.  So many photos were deleted in this experiment!  One thing that threw me was that on the manual settings the crystal was showing up yellow.

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So with a bit more mucking about I found in the white balance menu a tungsten choice.  I clicked that and the yellow went away.

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Obviously it is high time I downloaded the manual, ahem.  🙂  Just playing with it a bit yesterday showed me that this kit will be a huge help to me and I can’t wait work on the set ups for the photos for my posts.  Now perhaps I can translate what is in my head to the camera!

I Blame my Daughter – Why I’m Hooked on Instagram

It started innocently enough.  My daughter and I were in the car chit chatting about various things and I asked her what her friends were picking for social media.  My daughter is in middle school and at that age where it starts to get crazy with all the things her friends are doing.  I’d read articles how Facebook might not be “cool” so I was curious.  She mentioned Instagram was big in her group.  Instagram?  That photo thing?  I knew about it of course but not in a social media context.  Clearly I had to do some research.

The cool thing about my kids is they never do the “but everyone else is doing it!” whine so we do try to do things for them when it is age appropriate.  And they know the rules.  If they are on the internet guess who they get to be friends with?  Me!  Or at least one of the parents.  🙂  So I thought hey, I’ll check it out, join, then have my husband set up the laptop in the den for her to use.  She doesn’t have a smartphone or an iPod Touch.  I mean those things are $200!  Which boggles my mind when I see how many kids out there have them.

First roadblock.  You need a smartphone.  Nuts.  There had to be a way.  I thought well maybe I could put her pics on my iPhone and she could use that.  Oh no, pics only go one way.  So after much digging and looking about I figured out we could use my android tablet.  Woot!

Second roadblock.  Apparently contrary to the belief you can load pics from your computer directly to the tablet via the usb, you can’t.  You have to use the mini SD card.  And a SD card adapter because my computer doesn’t take the mini size.

Third roadblock.  I have no idea how old her phone is as her mother gave it to her used.  (I’m the bonus mum, lucky me!) But like all cameras I’ve hooked up to my computer we could get the pics off of it.  Except hers.  Facepalm.  The computer didn’t have the drivers for it.  So it got passed to my husband who works with computers for a living. (thank goodness)  He figured out she had a mini SD card in her phone.  So to make this work she has to remove the SD card and put it in the tablet.  Then for the tablet to read it you have turn off the tablet and turn it back on.

And we were finally in business!  And through all this I really got hooked onto Instagram.  I love taking photos and am having a blast with the filters.  It is a really quick way for me to get a creative fix during the day.  I thought I’d share some of what I’ve taken so far.

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I love taking pictures of flowers but this one of the bleeding heart is my favourite.

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This weekend they had a festival at the Wyman Tavern to showcase the 1700’s and there some really interesting things to take pictures of.  Including the fruit and veg they used as dyes.

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I did find an interesting bit about Instagram.  When you use filters it saves a copy for you as a square.  But if you just upload without filters it doesn’t save a square copy so this one I uploaded didn’t change parameters.

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I am curious if any of you do Instagram and what you’ve found.  A big question I have is does it drain your phone battery?  My battery life is terrible all of a sudden and wonder if it is because of the app.  I did keep my username as ourgrowingpaynes if any of you would like to see what else I’ve posted.  And let me know yours as I’d prefer to follow those that I’m familiar with and we have similar interests!  🙂