The above picture is one of the first I’ve taken with my new iPhone. It’s replaced the old museum piece of a mobile which, over the years, has been working less and less well and falling further and further behind in terms of its functionality compared to newer models, particularly the ability, via WiFi, to connect to the mobile network in places where there is only the faintest of mobile signals. Like our house. And also there’s only so long you can go on using elastic bands to keep the plug attached to your phone when you’re trying to recharge it. Having such an old model had become a kind of badge of honour, but the cost in terms of its shortcomings had become too much: the bullet had to be bitten.
The transition to the new phone was surprisingly painless in terms of data transfer and stuff, but I hadn’t tried out the camera up until a particular crisp and frosty morning about a week ago. I knew the the software was capable of exposing different parts of an image in different ways, enabling you to get more balanced pictures in contrasty conditions. So I thought I’d see how it would handle capturing the sky and the more delicate colouring of the frosty grass in the foreground with the camera pointed directly at the sun. You don’t get much more potentially contrasty than that.
The colours are a little hazy, but I thought it did pretty well. And it was much easier than it would have been fiddling about with HDR settings on the Nikon.
It’s been a slightly sad nostalgic farewell to the old iPhone though.
Of course the Nikon has its own strengths, particularly when it comes to telephoto photography, but it’s been a bit of a struggle over the last couple of months when clear frosty mornings have been the exception to the gloomy norm.
In terms of subjects, there’s been little in the way of wildlife in the garden or the field opposite. And when wildlife has appeared, it’s either been passing through at high speed or been there in dull light. Or both. There was a female muntjac we spotted running through the mist the other morning and I had no idea they could move that fast. The mist was swirling in her wake.
We’ve seen Egrets on a couple of occasions, but they are rare visitors here and amongst the most nervous. They seem always to see you before you see them which means, generally, what you get to see of them is their rear view flying away very quickly. Another challenge for 2021.
I managed a few pictures of Muntjacks back in November when the days were a bit brighter, but since then I haven’t seen much at all apart from the local fox which passes through now and again looking for mice and voles. Nice to see them doing that prancing jump thing they do when trying to land on one, but it’s not happened yet when I’ve had the camera on them.
Below are a few of the pictures I have managed to get with the new 500mm lens.
And below is a slideshow of the fox trying to catch a small rodent: “Gotcha!”, “Well I thought I’d gotcha”, “I’m sure he’s here somewhere”, “Where’d he go?”
Like all of us, I’m looking forward to brighter, longer days ahead.
My new telephoto zoom lens has arrived. It’s huge and heavy and not for taking on dog walks. It’s a Nikon 200-500mm and it weighs in at nearly two and half kilos. Wandering around outside, strap on shoulder, hand on the camera grip ready for test-shot action, I felt like a paparazzi. A self-conscious one. This new set up will take a bit of getting used to.
I decided to shell out what was around twice the cost of the camera itself to enable me to get better shots of the various animals and birds that pass through (and sometimes take up residence in) our garden and the adjoining field. It should result in noticeably more detail than I’ve been getting with my 70-300mm lens. And it should mean less cropping generally.
I’ve told myself that the expense is justified ‘A’ because of lockdown – what else you gonna do? – and ‘B’ because we do get quite a lot of wildlife – and resultant photographic opportunities – from Roe Deer and Muntjacks to stoats and water shrews. When it comes to bird life we’re lucky too. We’ve had Egrets on the stream and even occasional visits from Kingfishers, though with no fish to speak of in the shallow stream they’re only ever passing through (I’ll have to be quick and have the camera within reach if I’m ever going to get a shot of one). We get a few bird species you’d normally see in open countryside, as well as the more typical garden birds, but not too many of them. They all look bit nervous. I suspect it’s because we have a lot of Corvids here as well – particularly Magpies, Jays and Jackdaws – and Raptors too. Buzzards nest each year in a tall oak a couple of hundred yards away, and we usually have Sparrow Hawks nesting nearby.
The buzzards have had a tough time of it this year as the rabbit population locally was devastated by Myxomatosis. It was horrible to see the sickly things struggling blindly about in the field and finding their way onto the patio occasionally where it was my job to dispatch them. Within a week or two there were no rabbits left. It seemed to me the Buzzard fledglings, when they appeared, were squawking more loudly for food from their parents than in previous years. And for longer.
There were two survivors from the nest and they sounded increasingly desperate as the days went by. On one occasion I saw a parent trying to teach them the basics of hunting with a tiny mouse – or at least that’s what I think was happening. Maybe she was just making them work for it. Whichever, it felt like an indicator of just how tough things were getting for them.
Anyway, we’re hoping we’ve seen the back of the Myxomatosis – for now anyway. I saw a couple of rabbits chasing each other the other day and that’s as many rabbits as I’ve seen in the field at any one time for a few months now.
Without rabbits we don’t see their predators so much. There’s always been a buzz of excitement when a fox wanders through the field or peers out from behind some undergrowth, or just sits there watching on.
Surprisingly – to us anyway – the rabbits usually seem pretty relaxed about it. Some of them behave as if they’re sentries, sitting up ramrod straight, watching, listening. It looks like they know when a fox is on the hunt and when it’s just passing through. They also seem to know exactly when they need to make a dash for their burrows – or the adults do. The carefree young ones, with their first days out in the open air, full of the joys of fresh grass and buttercups, are not so wary. You see the mothers shepherding the young back towards the safety of their burrows when they stray too far away. And they do it quite briskly sometimes. The young rabbits don’t always want to be told.
In the winter the foxes can look a bit skinny and muddy, from getting in and out of their earths during wet weather, I’m guessing. But during the summer when it’s dry and there’s usually plenty of food about, they’re in peak condition.
Wider shots with animals seen in the context of their surrounding are possible with the 70-300mm.
And when you’re looking to emphasise distance between predator and quarry, the less strong telephoto lenses are also okay. In fact I seem to remember I knitted two shots together for the picture above, as the wider end of the zoom couldn’t capture both rabbit and fox at the same time. It will be nice, though, to have the possibility of closer shots.
The relationship between foxes and rabbits provide much of the wildlife drama here. And the rabbits provide a bit of humour too. Their chases and their crazy acrobatics in particular. Not sure whether the whirling backward flips that some of them do is to impress prospective mates or just the result of over excitement. Whatever, it’s one of the things I’m hoping I might be able to capture this year with the new lens. We’re hoping the rabbit population recovers more quickly than it did when Myxie passed through a few years ago.
Now that I have my new lens, there have been fewer opportunities to use it. The migratory birds have gone and there are fewer daylight hours than there were. We’ve had a Roe Deer appearing in the field now and again. But she’s always at the further most point – a hundred yards or more away – where she likes to lie down and watch over the valley (if you look at the view of the field at the top of this blog, she’s between the small copse and the hedgerow at the top left of the field). And we only ever seem to see her when the light is gloomy. Now the sun is out, she’s nowhere to be seen. Managed to get a few shots of her when she was here, hiding behind tufts of grass. I couldn’t see her with the naked eye – or my naked eyes anyway (it was Chantal who spotted her). Below is my first attempt – cropped a bit – with the new 200-500mm.
Promising, I think. But here’s hoping for some sunny days in the next few months with beautiful creatures doing interesting things. And for me to have camera to hand when I spot them.