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A trio of Raptors in The Gambia.
17th April 2018
Today we found ourselves in a local area named Tujering Woods. This area is not really a woods, it is more an open area sparsely populated with trees and scrub. First impressions are that it wouldn’t be very good for birds but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It held a large and diverse range of species and there are virtually no quiet spots in the whole area, there is something to see continually. After seeing birds like Yellow Penduline Tit, White Fronted Black Chat, Striped Kingfisher, African Silverbill, Red Winged Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird, Zitting Cisticola etc etc. We spotted one of our all-time favourite Raptors up in a Palm Tree, a Black Shouldered Kite.





For me personally it has always been a bird I have struggled to see well and after my first viewing of one many years ago in a Cork Oak woodland in Portugal when I thought it was so beautiful - I wanted more!



I managed to slowly get closer to the bird by sneaking from bush to bush and taking shots as I went along, at least you have some images doing it this way if the bird flies away. I had taken some reasonable shots of this ghost – like bird with its ruby red eyes and elegant light coloured plumage, I was hoping for more when suddenly it became very animated, I knew it wasn’t me because I had been very careful, then suddenly a different Raptor flew into a nearby tree causing the Black Shouldered Kite to fly off. I turned around to be confronted by a Dark Chanting Goshawk.



Another beautiful bird. I took a few shots before it also flew off in pursuit of the Kite, what a few minutes! We walked a little further on and in another Palm Tree we could see a medium sized bird which turned out to be a Grey Kestrel.



Another cracking bird, a lovely trio of Raptors. This area turned out to be very productive indeed and was a great morning’s birding.
Farakunku Tree and Bird Sanctuary, The Gambia, Part 3.
13th April 2018
I was not always able to photograph all the birds we saw in the garden and sometimes you just have to be content with seeing the birds – after all that is what birdwatching is all about. We had brief views of two Violet Turacos, Rose-Ringed Parakeets and a Lizard Buzzard which flew within three feet of our heads as it snatched a lizard off the wall behind us. Having said that we had great success watching and photographing many lovely birds in the garden and on our penultimate visit we saw a flash of colour in a tree, right in the corner of the garden – unbelievably three Bearded Barbets briefly dropped onto a lower branch affording us good views before they flew away.

Other regular visitors to the water pots were Long Tailed Glossy Starlings, African Thrush and Yellow Billed Shrike, all very common birds.







At the end of the day we were treated to a real flash of colour as two beautiful birds visited the garden, first to arrive was a Senegal Parrot, which we had seen flying over on a few occasions but had only seen perched once before.



Then soon after the star turn of the afternoon came wandering along one of the paths, a Yellow Crowned Gonolek, totally unfazed by our presence.



There were also dozens of small birds such as Bronze Manikins, Blue Cheeked Cordon Bleus, Lavender Waxbills and Red Billed Fire Finches around the drinking pots.

These couple of hours in the garden rounded off nicely what were already good days, because there were no bad birding days for us in Africa. In addition we always had a superbly cooked dinner to look forward to, followed by a relaxing couple of hours on the veranda with an ice cold beer.

Below is a short Youtube video of some of the birds at the garden.

https://youtu.be/oHbw2L7QQbE
Farakunku Tree and Bird Sanctuary, The Gambia, Part 2.
13th April 2018
On another evening in the Sanctuary a group of Green Wood Hoopoes came to drink.



These lovely, delicate, birds, with long white flecked tails and a long red de-curved bill are a joy to watch, it was a large family group of adults and juveniles. This group visited the garden for three or four days and then totally disappeared, much to our disappointment. Nevertheless there were many other birds to take their place – one evening we saw a hitherto shy bird, a Senegal Coucal come to drink right in front of us.



This was followed amazingly by a Blue Bellied Roller, a gorgeous bird.



It’s some experience to have these lovely birds just 20 feet away, it’s amazing what a pot of water can do!
Suddenly six feet away clinging to a small sapling there was a Fine Spotted Woodpecker making his way to drink from a small hanging water basket.



We kept very still and quiet and had amazing views of this lovely bird and at one stage a female joined him to drink. While watching the Woodpeckers we hadn’t noticed a Grey Backed Cameroptera looking for insects on the ground near our shelter.



These tiny birds are very Wren-like in their habits and appearance and are easily overlooked. Then a beautiful long Tailed Glossy Starling flew into one of the trees just before we left for the evening.

Farakunku Tree and Bird Sanctuary, The Gambia.
13th April 2018


Farakunku tree and bird sanctuary was set up by Heather, the owner of the lodges to preserve plants, trees and to encourage the local wildlife by providing much needed water in a purposely dug pool and many locally-made clay pots and woven baskets. To maintain these water levels Alpha, one of groundsmen, hand draws the water from a very deep well which had been dug out for this purpose. It was quite an effort to draw so much heavy water to the surface from a 9 metre deep well.
This private garden is quite large and consists of three shelters with seating, enabling guests to observe the many and varied birds that come to drink, mainly in the evenings, after a typically hot and dry Gambian day. Susan and I went to this garden usually from 4.30pm – 6.30pm most days which we found was the most productive time.
The following is the first of three blogs to illustrate ‘just a few’ of the birds we saw there.
On our first evening we sat quietly in anticipation not knowing quite what to expect. We heard Blackcap and Brown Babblers in the trees and before long these gregarious birds came to drink from one of the pots in front of the shelter.





They seemed to have no fear of humans, totally ignoring our presence. Susan saw something moving to our left and to our delight an adult Greater Honeyguide came into view.



This intriguing bird is widely found in sub-Saharan Africa and like a Cuckoo it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, Bee-Eaters are a favourite species. When the Honeyguide chick hatches it is equipped with sharp hooks at the tip of its beak, and at only a few days old uses these ‘weapons’ to kill its siblings and monopolise the supply of food
It has long been known in many parts of Africa that people and Greater Honeyguides work together to find wild-bees nests which provide a valuable resource for them both.
Honeyguides give a special call to attract people’s attention, then fly from tree to tree to indicate the direction of the bees’ nest. Humans are useful collaborators to the Honeyguide because of their ability to subdue stinging bees with smoke and chop open their nests to take the sticky rich honey for themselves and leave the wax and larvae within for the Honeyguide.
Not only do Honeyguides use calls to solicit human partnership, but in some cases, humans use specialised calls to recruit the bird’s assistance. Research in Mozambique has revealed that by using specialised calls to communicate and cooperate with each other, people and wild birds can significantly increase their chances of locating vital sources of calorie-laden food.

Next at the drinking pots was a Forked Tail Drongo



and then a family group of Piapiacs the latter being very raucous birds, similar in habits to our Magpies.



We were also entertained by a Western Grey Plantain Eater.



These birds are full of character and like to balance on the flimsiest of branches to enable them to eat the delicate yellow flowers that appear to be their favourite food. It was an enjoyable couple of hours and it was a real privilege to have this garden on our doorstep.
Curious Osprey in The Gambia.
10th April 2018
On one of our free days we usually had a taxi to a specific location that was recommended by Heather the owner of the Lodges we were staying at. These taxis involved a driver employed by Heather so they were honest and reliable, which is quite important, especially if you are for example a woman travelling on your own. These were mainly bird orientated destinations but with an opportunity to get some lunch and to see some local culture. One of these destinations was the Tanji Eco Lodge where you can stay in what looked like nice lodges right above the beach and also there was a nice restaurant and bar there. We wandered along what was ostensibly a deserted beach, the only thing we saw was a pair of shoes with a Cuttlefish placed beside them, both of which we presumed must have belonged to a fisherman. We walked about half a mile along the beach to a couple of lagoons where there were lots of Caspian and Royal Terns and the odd Pied Kingfisher. Perched in a distant tree we could see an Osprey eating a fish, we thought there would be one or two still around so we waited to see if one would come and fish in the lagoons. Sadly this didn’t happen and so we made our way back up off the beach and through a small boggy area and up into an open wood.
As we walked through this sparse woodland we saw a further four Ospreys all sitting in the trees. However, as we approached them they just took off and they proved too shy to get any shots. We had given up any hope of a photograph when unexplainably another Osprey, obviously a more curious bird came flying towards us and for whatever reason proceeded to hover above us giving very nice views indeed. Sometimes there’s no explaining wildlife behaviour, but we weren’t complaining! I managed to take some half decent shots before it also then flew away.







Contented, we walked back to the restaurant and enjoyed a very nice lunch indeed cooked by the two young men on duty, these young men in The Gambia really are very good cooks.
A very nice end to a morning’s birding!
Bearded Barbet.
08th April 2018
We were out early one morning in the local Savannah just walking around with Mas and he was mesmerising us with his mimicry, he had birds coming to us instead of us looking for them! On a very few occasions I thought I’d seen something he’d missed and I’d say ‘what was that Mas’ and without looking up he’d say what bird it was, he’d obviously seen it, he never failed to amaze us. A little later on he stopped and said ‘Bearded Barbet calling distantly’, we have seen Barbets in India but only brief views and they were another of our sought after species to see. Then he starts making this weird noise and unbelievably a Bearded Barbet starts responding. ‘He is coming’ he says and after a few more calls there is a Barbet in a tree in front of us!!



I know this sounds like I’m making this up but honestly I’m not and I can’t believe it as I’m photographing two Bearded Barbets right in front of us, I was in shock! We would never have seen birds like this without Mas’s expertise, quite unbelievable.
Blue Breasted Kingfisher.
08th April 2018
On one of our days out with Mas we went to a place called Marakissa this is a bird reserve run by a Dutchman and his Gambian wife. A very nice couple who are very welcoming and they have a very nice set-up which backs onto a river where a variety of birds can be seen including Pied, Malachite, Giant and Blue Breasted Kingfishers. Pied Kingfishers can be seen throughout The Gambia, however, the other three are more difficult. We went for a walk in the local Savannah where we saw a good variety of birds, at one stage we were walking along and Mas said African Harrier Hawk calling nearby, suddenly a bird flew high into the air from a nearby tree, great birding again by Mas.



In total on the trip we saw 212 species of which only about twenty we had seen previously. We had ordered lunch for our return and we were sat down after we had eaten and Mas said to me ‘sit here and keep looking’, we had been sat watching the drinking pots and a good variety of birds had been coming to drink. It was quite warm and after lunch I felt like dozing off and I must admit to drifting a little bit, it was so pleasant. Suddenly Mas whispered ‘Steve, look’ I couldn’t believe my eyes a Blue Breasted Kingfisher was sat on a branch twenty feet away from us.

These birds are ten inches high!





I never thought I would see one that close, what a bird. A great end to a day's birding!!
Abyssinian Roller.
08th April 2018
The Abyssinian Roller is fairly common in The Gambia but these birds like all Rollers are quite shy and difficult to approach. I wasn’t having much luck getting close to them when Susan and I were out walking with our guide ‘Mas’. I called him Mas for short, his proper name is Masaneh Sanyang.

Mas pictured outside our accommodation.


Mas was without doubt the best bird-guide I have ever been out with. He had really incredible eyesight and with his recognition of bird calls and songs combined with his uncanny bird mimicry made him a formidable birder. We were fortunate to have hired his services for six days as part of our holiday package and we extended this to eight days because we were so impressed with his ability. I have heard a few bird-guides names banded about in The Gambia over the years, these guides that are linked to bird tour companies and the likes of Chris Packham etc but if any of them are better than Mas then I would like to see them. He is forty six years old and he told me that a lot of these bird-guides that are leading people on bird trips currently were still in school when he was a bird-guide. Everywhere we went the other guides were in deference to him, he really commanded respect. Susan and I got on really well with him and every day out with him was an experience. We knew we were in for something special when on our first day with him we met him outside the gates of our accommodation and he started calling birds in using his mimicry, in about a minute he had a tree full of birds in front of us, we didn’t know where to look!! At the end of one of our days out we were driving along and he said do you still want Abyssinian Roller, I said yes and he turned off the road and pulled up quietly alongside a bird that I hadn’t seen but he obviously had. He cut the engine and the bird stayed put allowing me to take some shots, a great end to the day.

The Gambia 2018.
08th April 2018
We have just arrived home from a 17 day birding trip to The Gambia in West Africa:
I will be writing a series of Blog Posts over the coming weeks to show a flavour of the trip, some images will also follow in a travel folder and the usual full trip report will follow in due course.
All the birds photographed in the following Blog Posts were taken using a Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens, (Handheld).
A tripod was used only for video recording.
Spring-like day in a Brecon Beacons Wood.
16th February 2018
What a glorious late winter day today in the Brecon Beacons with relatively mild temperatures and light winds. A perfect day for a pleasant stroll while looking for signs of spring. We had hoped to hear a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming or singing because this is one of the best times of the year to hear them. However, we had no luck today and even hearing these birds is becoming increasingly more difficult every year. We did see two Hawfinches earlier this week in Brecon,



and at least you have a chance this winter to see these elusive finches because of a very large movement of them into the UK. Apparently there is a failure of the food crop they feed on in winter, in Germany in particular, and this has resulted in very large numbers of these birds in the UK, flocks of up to three hundred in southern England, unprecedented in our lifetime. We saw twenty birds in a churchyard near Hay on Wye this week which would never usually happen in winter.
As we walked through a local woodland today Susan heard the faint hoot of a Tawny Owl, I know there are birds in this wood and they sometimes sit out sunbathing on a day such as this near to their favourite roosting area. We walked on through the woods and one flew into the open and perched in front of us.



I fired a few quick frames off with my Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens and managed to get a couple of record shots, something I wouldn’t have been able to do with my Canon 600 f4 lens. The Owl then flew up into the Ivy-clad trees and disappeared, it was all over in ten seconds!



Albeit a very brief encounter it finished off a pleasant walk and we both left contented at seeing a lovely woodland bird.
The ‘Old War Horse’ is moving on.
18th January 2018
This week I sold my old Canon 1D Mark ii camera on ebay. This camera never let me down in over ten years of use, it was still performing flawlessly. I have only used it for landscape work for the majority and it still delivered very good quality images, but there comes a time when new technology emerges that questions why you are still clinging on to the past.
When I looked in my photography cupboard last week I could see, in addition to the above camera;
Two Leica 7 x 42 BA binoculars and a Leica 62mm APO Spotting scope with 20-60 eyepiece, all just gathering dust. I know I said I wouldn’t part with the Leica bins in a previous equipment review but I’m so impressed with my Vortex Razor binoculars that the Leica's were just going to remain there.
These items all sold really quickly on ebay for a good price - quality always sells!
These items went a long way to offsetting the cost of new equipment and this week, after much deliberation, I decided to buy a Canon 1D Mark IV, a full frame camera with a 30mp sensor, 4K Video and a 3.2” rear touch screen. I will now be using this camera for landscape work and the odd video but it can still be used for wildlife if necessary. I have been familiarizing myself with the new controls, some of which are featured on my Canon 7D II. It is a hugely impressive angle of view when looking through the viewfinder at home when using this 5D IV with my Canon 17-40 f4 lens. I am very busy this week with family commitments so I can’t wait to try the new camera out next week.


Canon 1D ii 'War Horse'


Canon 5D IV with Battery Grip


Canon 5D IV with Battery Grip


Canon 1D ii (small rear screen)
Still in great condition!

As an footnote I was very pleased to hear from the new owner of the Leica APO scope that is is going to be used in the Dominican Republic to help locate displaced and stranded wildlife affected by the recent Hurricanes.
"Dancing On Ice" at Llangors Lake.
12th January 2018
It was still dark when I dragged myself out of a cosy warm bed this morning and there was another cold and frosty morning in the hide at Llangors Lake waiting for me. I must admit it didn’t seem a very nice prospect but the early bird catches the worm – so they say.
I left my car defrosting while I made some breakfast and filled my small flask with coffee, both very necessary in this cold weather. I’m lucky I can leave my car running because I have no near neighbours to disturb with my sometimes very early morning activities.
When I reached the bird hide at the lake it was surrounded by frost and the shallow water all around was frozen with a light covering of ice. A Grey Heron took flight as I approached, it had seen and heard me long before I had seen it, they are so wary, like all Herons. I quickly got inside the hide and settled down as the light got brighter, I had a few more windows open this time because there was no cold wind, unlike my last visit. Suddenly from under the hide a Kingfisher burst out into the morning light but it took one look at the frozen lake margins and quickly bid a retreat back into the flooded woods - It must be struggling to fish at the moment.
After a short time a few Wrens became active and ventured out onto the ice, they looked comical as they appeared unsure of their footing.



Then I could see movement in the reeds and surprisingly a Cetti’s Warbler also came out onto the ice it also looking unsure of its footing. I watched it quizzically peering down through the ice looking at what was underneath but unable to do anything about it.



I took a few shots of this comical situation and when I was pouring a cup of coffee, out of nowhere the earlier Grey Heron was flying past the hide and I quickly fired off a few frames in an attempt to catch it in flight.



I was checking the back of my camera to see the images and I casually looked up and unbelievably a Great White Egret was now flying past the hide, once again I had to quickly fire off a few shots before it drifted away.



I was becoming reluctant to look away in case anything else flew by and now I could hear a Water Rail squealing very close by, however, I didn’t pay too much attention to this because you can hear them all the time, but I should have because it came scurrying across the ice disappearing before I could do anything about it. I remember seeing them running quickly across the same small area of ice the last time I was in the hide so I thought ‘right I’ll try and catch one crossing’ because they are not as fast on ice as they are on water, (they have less traction). I waited and waited until I could hear the same squeal close by and sure enough one came out onto the ice and it ran across a bit slower this time, looking in my direction obviously unsure after its last crossing.



This didn’t mean I had much time, still only about five seconds, I immediately fired a load of shots as it crossed and disappeared into the sanctuary of the reeds.





It was quite an entertaining period but as the morning went on it became quiet and as I was getting cold I packed up and made my way home quite satisfied that I'd at least got a few shots - worth the effort of getting up early.
A cold morning at Llangors Lake.
06th January 2018
I was out just after first light this morning after being confined to barracks during this appalling weather we have had to endure lately. I made my way over to the ‘New’ hide at Llangors Lake and set up in the one corner. I only had a couple of shutters open in the hide because the wind was bitterly cold. It had also started to rain quite heavily and with dull grey skies overhead it was not a pleasant morning at all. I had a small flask of coffee with me and I have to say I was glad of it as the morning went on because I was freezing. There was not much bird life and I began to question myself what I was doing there. Then suddenly I could hear a Kingfisher ‘Peeping’ from in the woods adjacent to the hide, this caught my attention and then I saw her perch on a horizontal branch about forty yards away, she dived into the shallows then immediately flew off and I didn’t see her again. She is probably fishing in the flooded woods to avoid the choppy and partly frozen lake margins. The River Usk has difficult fishing conditions because of the heavy rain that has fallen lately and these are tough times for Kingfishers. This is the best time to see these lovely birds fishing on lakes and canals trying to survive the flooding. I could also see several Wrens foraging down low amongst the reeds and I had seen a Water Rail a couple of times scurrying across a small area of open water, they usually dash from one area of reeds to another when they are in secretive mode, which is more often than not!
I could hear a Cetti's Warbler calling from the reeds, their call is far less distinctive than their explosive song, but with practise it is easy to recognize. I didn’t get excited because this doesn’t mean these awkward skulking birds are going to show, they can be infuriating for a birder because most of the time they just give a fleeting glimpse before they disappear into the base of a reed bed to hide. I now had to huddle down because the temperature had fallen to another chill level and I was forced to close the shutter directly facing the lake as a bitter wind scoured across the reed beds. Then I could see a small bird moving about in the bottom of the reeds and I could see the reeds moving slightly, I thought it was one of the Wrens but as I checked, (you have to check), I could now see it was a Cetti's Warbler. I positioned my lens where I thought the bird might appear, (if you do this then you don’t have to react and search and if you have guessed correctly you might get an extra shot or two). I waited patiently, focussed on a gap in the reeds and then I was rewarded as the Cetti's came out into the open. I fired off a few shots and then it was gone again. These were not great shots, high iso and low shutter speeds because of the dreadful light, but at least I had pinned a Cetti's down, no mean achievement! I waited for another ten minutes or so but it had gone very quiet and I decided to pack up because I was very cold. When I arrived home Susan asked me if I would like some homemade, cream of Butternut Squash and Red Pepper soup with warm buttered toast, this was a rhetorical question after the freezing temperatures I had endured in the bird hide!











Happy Xmas
24th December 2017
Another year is rapidly drawing to a close, I don't know if it's me but they seem to pass more quickly these days. This site has now received over 1.6 million hits with visitors from over forty countries, it still amazes me when I see those figures, so I'd like to wish everybody who visits and hopefully enjoys this website a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful Xmas and a bird-filled new year.
Long may we all continue!
Steve.

Male Brambling in my garden, it's been a long wait!!
19th November 2017
There has been a large movement of Bramblings into the UK over the last week or so. Every winter the UK has wintering Bramblings, some years have big numbers where flocks of hundreds can be seen. However, we very rarely see those big numbers in the Brecon Beacons, where a good flock is perhaps ten or so. Bramblings are basically ground feeders and they have a liking for fallen Beech Mast which can carpet a woodland floor in good years. This year Susan and I have walked in a few deciduous woodlands and there is definitely a lack of Beech Mast, whereas last year it was in abundance. We have lived in our present home for over twenty years and we have only seen one female Brambling in the garden in all that time. This year I’m pleased to say that has changed because there are some stubble fields where crops have been harvested near to where we live and there is currently a mixed Finch flock flying around and feeding in these fields. With this in mind I have been putting extra sunflower seeds out, more than normal, in an effort to attract a Brambling to our garden. I’m pleased to say this has been successful and Susan called me a few days ago to come and see two male Bramblings feeding on the grass outside the house. Success! – But I wanted to create a photographic situation, not just a shot of birds feeding in the grass. I removed one of the old logs I keep in a pile at the bottom of the garden and set it up outside one of my garden sheds and then scattered some seeds around. It took two days but yesterday a male Brambling was feeding around the log. I waited for them to fly away as they often do and I hid in the shed with the door wedged open and behind some ‘Camo Netting’.



I have seen some people have difficulty and misidentify Brambling and Chaffinch. I can’t see why people have this difficulty because Brambling are so distinctive with their burnt orange and black spotted plumage and their grey / black heads. In addition if you see a flock of birds rise up off a woodland floor in winter and you see white rump patches then they will almost certainly be Brambling. They are such lovely birds and as a result people want to see and photograph them if possible.





Always look behind you!!
12th November 2017
I was out last week in the late afternoon at Llangors Lake in the Brecon Beacons hoping to see the Starling murmurations that have been taking place there. I arrived at about 16.00 ready for the Starlings to come in at about 16.30. It was a glorious Autumn afternoon and I just stood there with my trusty Canon 17-40 f4 lens on my Canon 7D Mkii. At about 16.30 tens of thousands of Starlings came pouring in to the reedbeds, swirling around before dropping in to roost and luckily I was able to shoot some half decent video footage. While I was waiting to see if they had finished arriving I just casually looked back over my shoulder and I nearly fell over when I did because there was an amazing sunset unfolding behind me. Thankfully I was able to quickly attach a circular polarizer and a 1 stop ND grad filter to the lens and take a few shots. I crouched down and deliberately shot up through the foliage to try and get a better effect.



Moral of the story - it's in the title.
Waterfall Country.
26th October 2017
It was a lovely day yesterday so Susan and I went walking in what is known locally as 'Waterfall Country'. We were out early and started our walk from Pont Nedd Fechan and we walked for about a mile up to the first main waterfall, Sgwd Gwladus. There was no one else around and we watched Salmon leaping over one of the smaller falls during the walk up. We had superb close views of several Dippers, this is a great habitat for them! It was a lovely peaceful walk in beautiful surroundings and a total contrast from the views up on the Beacons.
I took a few shots as a record of the walk.






Both Images taken with my usual set-up.

Canon 1D MK 2
Canon 17-40 f4
Manfrotto 055 CX3 Tripod
Manfrotto MH XPRO three way tilt and pan head.
Canon remote cable release
Also:
A circular Polarizer to remove glare.
An ND 200 Filter to slow the water up.

Also used was a technique called focus stacking;
This involves setting up your composition then locking everything down on your tripod.
These shots are best taken from a low position, as indeed are many.
Switch your lens to manual focus and take a series of shots begining from as close as you can, then 1 metre ; 2 metres ; etc etc up to infinity, maybe four or five shots, taking care not to move your tripod.
Process one shot, eg sharpness, contrast, colour etc then open up all the images and blend them all together in photoshop.
(If it sounds complicated, don't worry it's not)!
This technique overcomes the blurring in areas of your image caused by depth of field.

Using typically the image with the rocks in the foreground:
If the rocks were sharp then the waterfall would be blurred and conversely the same.
Stopping down your lens can help to reduce shallow depth of field but cannot overcome all the blurring.
So to use focus stacking;
Focus manually on the very near rock, then the red leaves on the next rock, then the curly log, then the water and then the waterfall itself, five images. The photoshop programme will correctly align all the images chosen so they sit perfectly on top of each other. It will also blend the images by content and this is the clever thing, the programme will select all the sharp areas from all the images and blend them into one seamless image. Thereby producing one image that is sharp from front to back. A lot of macro photographers use this technique where it is particularly effective, as depth of field causes them even more problems with close up images.
Rock Thrush, (Don't feed it meal worms!!).
23rd October 2017
I was hoping this unfortunate little bird would have flown away before now because then it would not have been subjected to the appalling behaviour of some so-called photographers. These people make me so angry, they haven't got the first clue about how to behave. As soon as it becomes apparent that a rare bird is likely to stay for some time they descend like vultures and anything goes in their quest for a photograph just to inflate their already bloated egos. When Susan and I saw the bird a week last Saturday everyone was well behaved once the bird was found. We all kept our distance and just watched this lovely bird go about its business of feeding naturally and all the sensible birders and photographers took whatever views and shots that were on offer and left contented. That's the way it should be, but no, that's not enough for these people, they want more, so in order to get closer shots they bait the areas the bird frequents until the poor thing becomes dependent on them for its food. The ground where this bird is feeding is carpeted with meal worms thrown down by these people and this behaviour is encouraging the bird to become static and dependant on a single food, thereby destroying its feeding habits and diet.
Inevitably this bird will be either predated because of its reluctance to move from being over fed or die from the parasites that some of these low quality meal worms contain. It was the same scenario with a Bluethroat and a Red Footed Falcon in recent times. I despair at the behaviour of these people, but it doesn't matter to them because when this bird is dead they will just move onto the next rare bird that comes along. I hope this lovely bird survives but I fear the only way that will happen is if it leaves......
Rock Thrush.
14th October 2017
On Thursday this week a local birder from the Blaenavon area found a 1st winter male Rock Thrush in an isolated quarry on the Blorenge Mountain, near Abergavenny. These birds are a major rarity in the UK and are on many birders list of priorities. Rock Thrushes normally inhabit high altitude rocky areas, much higher than the Blue Rock Thrush and they are also quite shy and therefore difficult to see. Susan and I went over to the quarry yesterday in awful weather but we managed to see the bird in spite of the dire visibility. The weather forecast predicted an improving weather picture for today so we decided to have another go at seeing it. When we arrived at 08.30 there were a line of cars already parked right up the roadside and we only just managed to squeeze into a parking space. We walked the kilometre to the quarry and when we arrived we were greeted by what looked like a scene from the film Zulu. Birders lined the ridge above the quarry where they thought the bird might be, however, this was not the area where the bird was seen yesterday, so we walked on hoping for some peace and quiet away from the melee. When we reached the spot of the previous days sighting there was one birder/twitcher up on top of the escarpment talking loudly on his mobile phone. How these people expect to see a shy bird like a Rock Thrush when they behave like that I don’t know! I motioned him to get down and use some common sense and field craft and he disappeared from view to where I don’t know – frustrating behaviour!! I stopped and set up my gear and Susan walked on down the path and then I could see her waving to me and I ran over as best as I could while carrying my kit. She had just seen the bird in front of her and it had dropped down amongst some loose rocks – great spotting I must say! The bird was obviously avoiding the crowds. Two birders came walking past and I told them about Susan’s sighting, together we kept checking the area until one man shouted he could see it. The weather was still windy and drizzly with grey skies but I managed to get some half decent shots of what is a very elusive bird. We have seen two previously in Spain up in the Gredos Mountains but never in the UK and most people we spoke to were saying that it was a UK tick or even a ‘Lifer’ for them also. Yesterday I spoke to a man who had driven up from Penzance as far as Bristol and as there were no reports of the bird he turned back to go home, and he had reached Truro when the bird was reported, he then turned around and drove all the way up to Blaenavon and after seeing the bird he returned to Penzance. A round trip in the region of seven hundred miles, now that’s dedication!!! Such is the rarity factor of this bird there were around two hundred birders at the site by 08.30 this morning. I must admit I still enjoy a little twitch but not too often and only when it ends well!
Please see Latest Images, Rock Thrush.

Allt yr Esgair views.
02nd October 2017
Allt yr Esgair is a wooded hill near to where I live and the views from the top are panoramic. Two of the best views are looking north west up the Usk Valley towards the Brecon Beacons and north east to Llangors Lake. When you look north west the River Usk can be seen gently meandering through verdant farmland with the Brecon Beacons in the distance, and when looking north east the whole expanse of Llangors Lake is viewed with Mynydd Troed in the background.
Like any landscapes, both these views are light and therefore weather dependant. Blue sky with white clouds I find is the best combination for these two images. Unfortunately grey has been the dominant colour of the skies lately. However, three days ago there was a break in the weather and I took the opportunity to walk up to the top. It takes me roughly forty five minutes to get to the top carrying my photographic kit. On reaching the summit I was alone, it was just me and the view, just the way I like it!
I set up quickly and took a few shots before anyone else arrived because when people get there they tend to stand in the best spot and you can’t shoot any images, after all it’s there for everybody!

Here is the first view looking north west.



Secondly looking north east.


Both these images were obtained using a Circular Polarizer. (the most important filter in anybody's bag when shooting landscapes). These filters cut down reflective glare on water and other surfaces and and also generally enrich a scene. Also used was an ND graduated filter which balances out the exposure between sky and land. Using these two filters you can capture and enhance almost any scenes like these. The only other filters I use are ND filters for slowing down water and accentuating cloud movement.
Don't forget RAW is best!
The image of me on the home page looking out from the top of Allt yr Esgair was taken with the same filters. I positioned my camera and lens looking up the valley, focussing on the rocks and not the background scene, I switched off the Lens's auto focus to prevent 'focus hunting' and then stood on the rocks and shot the image using an IR remote trigger.
Capturing these images is easy, anyone can do it, the only thing that's required is to get out and walk.