Blue Breasted Kingfisher.
08th April 2018
On one of our days out with Mas we went to a place called Marakissa, this is an hotel with gardens 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!

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
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.
Woodpecker for breakfast.
23rd September 2017
Yesterday morning as I was standing in my kitchen eating a slice of toast for breakfast I looked out of the back window and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a Green Woodpecker looking back at me. We have seen them in the garden from time to time digging for ants (their favourite food), but they are very wary birds. There is a seasonal stream in my garden that starts running after heavy rain, usually in December and the banking of this little stream can be soft and this is where these Woodpeckers like to dig and probe for ants and grubs. I immediately put my toast down and got a lens out of my equipment storage cupboard, I rested it on the window sill and took a few shots, more in hope than expectation. Photographing through double glazing while trying to eat a slice of toast at the same time isn’t a recommended method for getting sharp shots. However, it was a good record of a very nice but somewhat elusive bird. There are a number of ant-hills further up this stream bed and I’ll be prepared to bet that these birds spend some time up there looking for ants. I will be keeping an eye open over the autumn to see if I’m correct.

A visit to Dunraven Bay.
18th September 2017
Susan and I felt like a trip to the coast this week and Sunday was forecasted to be a nice day and indeed the weather forecast proved to be correct and we drove down to Dunraven Bay in South Glamorgan. This bay and beach is part of the ‘Glamorgan Heritage Coast’ and we enjoyed a lovely few hours walking on the cliffs in the fresh sea air. Dunraven bay is in a very picturesque setting indeed, and actually there are two bays one being an SSSI site which can only be reached down some steep steps and is therefore little visited. Both these bays have dramatic and vertiginous cliffs and the views are spectacular to say the least. We enjoyed a picnic lunch while taking in these dramatic views and it was a very pleasant and most enjoyable few hours.

Some of the views below;

All images taken with;
Canon ID Mk 2
Canon 17-40 f4 lens
Manfrotto 055 CX3 Tripod
Manfrotto MH XPRO Tilt and Pan head
Canon remote cable release
Hoya circular polarizing filter
Hitech Format system filter holder
Hitech 0.3 (1-Stop), soft edged ND Graduated filter.
Llyn Brianne, the most viewed image.
18th September 2017
The most viewed photograph on this website is a view of Llyn Brianne reservoir in Mid-Wales. It is streets ahead of anything else and for whatever reasons I can’t imagine why. I didn’t and still don’t think it’s a particularly eye catching image, in fact I think it’s quite subdued and that’s fine because I just stopped the car when we were travelling through the area in 2007 and just took the shot. It was taken with a Canon 350D, their first digital DSLR on the market and just a wide angled kit lens, no polarizing filter etc.
Here is the image which was shot in Jpeg format.

Ten years later, (last Saturday), we drove up to that same spot, it’s in the back end of nowhere on a bleak mountain road that skirts the reservoir. However, I wanted to see what I could do with the same view, but using some thought, technique and a filter or two, because basically it has hardly changed except for the extra tree growth etc.
Here is the new image which was shot in RAW format.

It has been processed from Raw to Tiff allowing much more detail to be saved, I recommend always shooting in RAW!
I used a Hoya circular polariser to remove any reflective glare off the water and also a 3 stop (0.9) soft edged ND Graduated filter made by Hitech Format, a company here in Wales. The “ND Grad” was used because the sky was much lighter than the surrounding land. This evens out the exposure and prevents either the sky from “Blowing” or the land from being too dark. It was a lot cloudier this time and this also gave the image a more dramatic look.
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
Hoya Circular Polarizer
Hitech Format filter system holder
Hitech Format 0.9 (3-stop), soft edged ND Graduated filter

Here is a view of the overflow - same set-up.

A Pano of the Reservoir, (Two image stitch).

A flooded River Usk.
15th September 2017
I have decided to pull the plug on my Kingfisher site on the River Usk for this year, the weather since mid-July has been dreadful. The river is swollen continually and the usual secluded section of the river where these birds fish and also sometimes breed is flooded right out. They along with the Dippers, whose rocky areas are completely submerged, are really struggling through this period of horrendous weather. They are both having to find backwaters that are a little calmer and these are few and far between. I went down to the river early yesterday morning to retrieve my flower pots filled with concrete, (see previous blog, photographing Kingfishers), and my perches that I have hidden away. I was carrying my Canon 600 and a tripod just in case there was anything about in the distance. I put them down on the river bank safely away from the flood and waded into the river to the hidden place where I hide my perches etc, but to my surprise and dismay I couldn’t get near them although I was wearing wellingtons, I was ten feet from them and the river level was at the top of my wellies. This was a problem because I didn’t want to leave them there over the winter because I’m sure they would be swept away. There was only one alternative, I came back out of the river and took my wellies and socks off, rolled my trousers right up as far as I could and waded barefoot into the river. It is surprising how cold the water is, even in September, I also took two small fallen branches in with me to act as balancing aides because the current was so strong. I can say with confidence that I would have over-balanced without those branches to counteract the flow of water. With great difficulty I retrieved my paraphernalia and made my way back to the sanctuary of the river bank and I have to admit I was quite relieved to be back on dry land!
I dried my legs and feet with some kitchen roll that I always keep in my bag and got my wellies back on, it’s very comforting to have your footwear reinstated, somehow you feel vulnerable in bare feet. I sat down on a log under some willows to drink a cup of coffee and to just see if anything came along. After about ten minutes I heard very large wing beats above me and to my surprise a Mute Swan flew low overhead and then landed about a hundred yards up river. I knew it would have to come back down river because of the strength of the current and sure enough it drifted towards me. There was a small recess of calm water under an overhanging canopy just slightly up-river on the opposite bank to me. The Swan gratefully made for this calm and just floated around in there away from the current. However, it is quite dark under there but the sun was shining strongly on the bird. I have had this scenario with Kingfishers in the past and it allows a photographer to deliberately under-expose the scene. This has the effect of correctly exposing the Swan (in this example) and really darkening the already darkish background. This can be very effective because you then have a white bird like a Swan contrasting against an almost black background.

I made two trips to my car to load my kit, perches etc and left the river until next spring.
Changing of the Seasons.
08th September 2017
The weather is definitely changing, you can feel a slight chill in the air in the mornings lately, this is not a bad thing from an ornithological point of view. Birds sense this changing of the seasons and it encourages them to move, migrating to more suitable climates. The Wryneck passage has already started with a good number of birds sighted on the south coast of the UK. These enigmatic birds also move down the west coast of the UK in September and sometimes if there is a big westerly ‘blow’ they can be seen in-land seeking shelter.

We hardly ever see them in the Beacons though and that is a shame because they are one of my favourite birds. Also at this time of year Dotterel, another favourite of mine are heading back south after breeding up north and they can turn up on the Beacons at this time of year.

We always have a few Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs in our front garden this time of year and this year has been no exception. I don’t know why this happens but I’m not complaining. Bullfinches and Redstarts again bred in the garden but the two young Redstarts that were around the house have now disappeared, I hope they have a safe journey.
However, my thoughts always turn to Norfolk at this time of year because it can be a very exciting time birding there if the winds blow from the north east, in these wind conditions anything can turn up and I have had many memorable birding days there in the autumn over the last thirty years-
Long Eared Owls,

Short Eared Owls

and Hen Harriers all coming in off the sea. Two thousand Goldcrests landed on the north coast one weekend, totally exhausted feeding on grass seed along the beaches. Warblers dripping off the trees, Pallas's, Dusky, Raddes, Barred, Yellow Browed, Humes, Artic, Greenish etc etc. Unfortunately though this year I can’t make my autumn pilgrimage there because I have other plans of which I am quite excited about.
This summer in the UK, birding has had a distinctly Mediterranean feel about it, with Little Bitterns,

Cattle Egrets, Squacco Herons,

Bee Eaters,

Red Footed Falcons

and the now ‘common place’ Great White Egret, how quickly we become blasé about birds that were not so long ago a ‘Twitch’. These birds exemplify a visible shift northwards of many species as our climate grows milder and wetter.
Conversely will birds like Ring Ouzel start breeding further north?

Will birds like Brambling, Fieldfare and Redwing come as far south as in previous years? These are changing times for many species and it will be interesting to see how they adapt.
Locally it has been the usual quiet late summer for birds and my interests have turned to insects, Butterflies and Dragonflies in particular and they are very fascinating but now autumn is virtually upon us and hopefully there will be more birds around. There was a report of a Juvenile Marsh Harrier with green wing tags around a local reed bed this week, (Llangors Lake) and yesterday morning I went out early to try and see it because they don’t come around here too often. I had been waiting for over two hours with nothing much seen except two fly-by Hobbies and I was on the brink of leaving when suddenly it appeared, as usual from nowhere. Luckily I had my little Sigma contemporary lens waiting on a bean-bag and I was able to get a few quick record shots before it disappeared from view. This bird, however, was a different bird, no wing tags and another Juvenile, so we now have two Marsh Harriers locally which is very good for this area. Let’s hope they over-winter and give some more photographic opportunities.

The versatility of the Sigma 150-600 C lens.
09th August 2017
I am now using the Sigma 150 – 600 F5.6 – 6.3 Contemporary lens as my walk around lens, (see equipment reviews), it superceded my Canon ef 300 f4 lens for this purpose, the Canon was a great lens but it was just too short on focal length. Despite its focal length this Sigma lens can be just hung over your shoulder or put on a lightweight monopod when walking and is ready for action at short notice. It is better in many ways than a big and sometimes heavy prime lens because of its convenience. The primes will ultimately produce better image quality but by the time you have removed the prime lens from a bag and put it on a tripod the moment has usually passed.
I cannot praise this Sigma lens highly enough, I am genuinely impressed with its performance and for such a small lightweight and quite inexpensive lens to produce such good images is a great credit to Sigma. Yesterday I was out walking on one of the rare fine days we have had this summer and butterflies were starting to fly in the relatively warm sunshine. I was able to move around quickly to get the best angles because butterflies rarely pitch where you want them to and this allowed me to get many images that wouldn’t have been possible with a heavier and more cumbersome prime. This lens autofocuses at 2.88 metres so you can stand back from insects like butterflies and not disturb them while zooming in to 600mm to get the shot.
It is no surprise to me that this lens and its heavier cousin the 150-600 Sports version are big sellers. If you want to obtain quality images on a very reasonable budget then this is the lens for you.

This Peacock butterfly taken with ; Canon 7D ii with Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens @ 600mm @F6.3 - 320/sec. (Hand held)!