Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Three times lucky

Having discovered the swallow nestlings I put a plan I had hatched when I first found the nest into action this evening.

The idea was to set up the camera, with flashgun, on a tripod under the bridge and use a wireless remote to fire the shutter. I knew the adults wouldn't come to the nest while I was under the bridge and I hoped they wouldn't be put off by the presence of tripod or the flash firing.

 Technology in action

While setting up a kestrel landed on a fence post on the other side of the river. My best chance of a kestrel pic yet. But by the time I'd got the camera off the tripod and changed the settings on the camera it had flown away...

It didn't take long for the swallows to prove neither tripod nor flashes phased the swallows and they were coming in with food at five minute intervals. After starting off too far away for the remote to work reliably I moved closer and snapped away. It's pot luck this kind of thing so after half an hour I went to look at the pics and found that where the adult perched to feed the youngsters it was obscured.

 The stake-out!

During this time I had seen a kestrel hovering and heard it, or different one, calling. I then saw there was one perched on a phone mast with another appearing to be feeding it when a third came into the fray. It was obviously a family group. I was cursing the camera being stuck under the bridge! After some activity they all disappeared.

I moved the camera round a bit to get a better view and spent another fifteen minutes before taking another peek at the results, fully intending to then go look for the kestrels. There were some shots that would have been good, if only the camera hadn't tilted back after I'd locked the ball head.

 Chopped off...

One more try. This time I made sure the framing was right before sloping off to lie on the grassy bank watching the swallows and martins hawking over the water and a couple of pied wagtails perching on the bridge railings. One of the kestrels returned to the mast, only to be chased off by a jackdaw. The swallows were coming in more frequently now and after another fifteen minutes I decided to leave them be.

It turns out there are five nestlings, one is a miserable looking git, and I had one shot that I was really quite pleased with. The lighting is a bit harsh from the single flash unit, but I know the set up works.

Not too shabby

I'd parked up in a sneaky spot and chose a circular route back to the car. Turning down the track I spotted loads of tiny toadlets (or froglets?) fleeing from my approach. No doubt the much needed rain of last night which had created a few puddles in the ruts had drawn them out into the open. Still having the flash bracket attached to the camera I knelt down and took some close ups. So small were the cute little rascals that a macro lens would have been preferable! Coincidentally I'd stumbled across, literally, some tiny froadlets the other day while out and about and was planning to go photograph them early one morning this week. Now I didn't have to bother, well the urgency was gone at any rate.

 Froglet or toadlet?

Tripod over my shoulder and off I go past the pumping station, my mind wandering and me looking down to try and avoid tiny amphibians when there's a flurry of wings and a kestrel flies up off the railings and away across the compound. Damn!!! I drop the tripod and fumble with the flash bracket. Camera freed I wonder why it won't bloody well focus. In a tizzy it took me a while to remember I'd set up back-button focus-lock to take the close ups! I reckoned the kestrels - there had been two young looking birds - wouldn't have gone far and that I might be able to stalk them.

Sure enough I spotted one perched on the rails at the far side of the compound. I removed the lens hood and poked the lens through the rails. It was just a bit to fat and the focus jammed, I backed off and grabbed a shot or three. Then I saw the second bird a few uprights away from the first. I zoomed out, took a shot and one of them flew towards me. I thought I'd blown it, but no. The naive youngster perched feet away and eye-balled me while I fired off as many frames as I could.

 Sometimes you get lucky!

Thinking ahead I'd set the ISO to auto and the shutter speed high as I knew wobbly-hand syndrome would be likely if I got too excited. Then the bird flew back a few feet and perched again while I took some more shots before the pair of them flew off. I carried on round the compound but there was no sign of them. I reviewed the pics and felt rather chuffed. Luckily the track isn't heavily used and my tripod and flash unit were still where I'd dropped them. I thought that was enough excitement for one day and called it quits!

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