For me, this week got off to a great start. I found out that I have been accepted onto an internship with the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust that is due to start this summer. I’ll be spending 4 to 6 weeks helping to organise and build their image library, working with the other staff on the islands and generally having an amazing time! You can read a little more about the amazing work that the team out there have been involved with on the RSPB website, such as the the Seabird Recovery Project. Although this summer can’t come quick enough, I will miss getting out around my local patch during my time away. With the length of days stretching out I have been looking forward to those mild early starts of summer, and the lighter nights allowing for more photography time. I guess I’ll have to make the most of it in the mean time!
Copyright Ed Marshall. I managed to get this shot of a tufted duck pair the other morning, the stillness of the air allowing a low-lying mist to form on the surface of the lake. I was flat on my belly, soaked through I might add, in order to get right down on the eye level of the subject. By doing this it really made the mist stand out that little bit more, helping to separate the subject from the background.
Copyright Ed Marshall. By contrast, I also took this shot of a great crested Grebe, bringing the reflection of the trees into the image to help create a more interesting composition. I appreciate it’s an image that might not be for everyone, but there’s something about it I quite like.
As some of you may know, I’ve been on somewhat of a quest to find barn owls local to myself to photograph them, but so far I’ve yet to succeed. After struggling through the winter many barn owls haven’t returned to their usual haunts, with a number of people informing me that places in which they were sighted last year have failed to play host to the barnies again this year. You can read a little more about barn owls in the RSPB's online Bird Guide. Though I haven't had quite the success with barn owls I would have liked, I have had some new information that could just prove to be the ace up my sleeve, so you’ll all have to watch this space! I continually take inspiration from a number of photographers who capture amazing images of these birds, and recently I received an email from Natures Home reader Stuart Pike, who had done just that.
Photo by Stuart Pike. Barn Owls have had a tough winter, with sightings of them in my local area dropping compared to previous years. I can only hope to get a shot like this eventually!
The next issue of Natures Home Magazine, which is shipped around the 15th of April, will be featuring a look at the variety of nocturnal wildlife that can be found here in the UK such as the barn owl, and I for one will be sure to give it a read for inspiration. Until then, get out and about to enjoy what there is to be seen near you. You can either find a local reserve or visit your local patch, but be sure to let us know what you get up to either by emailing to us here at Natures Home, or by commenting below!
And finally, this weekend Mark Ward and a number of other RSPB members will be off having a great time in York for this years’ RSPB Members Weekend. It’s a great weekend that is packed full of activities for members, including talks and outings around York and nearby nature reserves. If you haven’t quite managed to book your spot on this years’ meet up, then be sure to think ahead for next year, it's a great event and something you can definitely look forward to!
Continuing along the theme of last weeks blog post, I will be featuring more emails from our readers as there are so many great questions, images and stories to share!
This week, I've decided to choose a question that I've had come in a few times here at Natures Home magazine, and recently it has been asked by Stephen Batchelor. He tells us about the pheasants that regularly visit his garden, but a recent, oddly coloured individual amongst them sparks the question "Are black pheasants rare?".
Photo by Stephen Batchelor. On the right, our easily recognisable female pheasant. One the left, a melanistic pheasant most probably the result of hybridisation when bred for sport.
Pheasants are a species of bird that were introduced many years ago, and have since spread across the country, often seen in our countryside walking through fields. They were introduced for the sport of shooting game birds, and stocks of pheasants that are bred for such purposes can result in different melanistic colour morphs, such as the one shown above. The colours of melanistic individuals can range from black to white, though how often this can happen is uncertain. It is most likely that individual birds from breeding stocks have somehow escaped or been let out, so although it is uncommon to see these pheasants out and about, it is not heard of.If you have any wildlife questions you would like to ask, you can do so by sending in your questions to our Ask An Expert section on the RSPB's website.
In last weeks blog post, I asked if any of you knew the ID of an odd looking insect. Those of you who guessed Plume Moth are correct! Plume moths are a group of moths typically identified by their feather-like wings, and is a group made of around 34 species in the UK(!), many of which don't have common names. If you have any ID questions that you would like help with, send them in!
This weeks ID comes from Michael Weller, who asks if we can identify this "monster" caterpillar that he found in his garden and has helpfully included a trowel for scale in the image. So, would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what species this belongs to? Answers revealed next week!
Photo by Michael Weller – Michael found this huge caterpillar while in his garden. Do you think you know what it is? The answer will be revealed next week!
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been receiving regular updates from a young wildlife enthusiast called Samuel Kyle-Henney, aged 8. Samuel wrote to me to tell me about how the high winds over the last month or so had resulted in an old tree being blown down in their garden, but to the surprise of both Samuel and his father there were large holes in the base of the tree. These holes had been made by stag beetles in order for them to lay their eggs (pictured), with the tree now fallen however, the larvae weren't protected from the elements and would be easily predated by the birds that visit their garden. In order to give them the best chance of growing up to become adults, they made sure that they were kept safe and comfortable in a pot full of sawdust and rotten wood, and hopefully they will see the results of their hard work in the future!
Photo by Samuel Kyle-Henney. Three stag beetle larvae that were discovered when an old tree fell down during high winds.
Stag beetles and their larvae love old trees and dead wood, such as the tree found in Samuels garden. The adults will bore their way into the rotting wood of a tree or log and lay their eggs where they will hatch and grow through their larval stage which can take anywhere from 4 to 6 years before they become pupae! The pupae then live in the soil before emerging as adults a few months later. A long process, but something that I think will be very much worth it to see them develop into adults. A great find by anyones standards, and you can find out more about what you can find in your own backyard in our A to Z of wildlife in your garden.
As for me this week, I would like to share some images from the RSPB's very own Middleton Lakes. A vast reserve, with a variety of habitats, it presents some great photo opportunities if you head out for an early start. I enjoy using natural light to produce different results in my photography, it creates a much more interesting image, adding something to the story behind the picture. I recently visited Middleton Lakes with a friend of mine, Matthew Lissimore, and here are just a few images that I managed to capture during the day.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Out on one of the main lakes at Middleton, a flock of black headed gulls take residence on a small island. With the sun behind them, and the mist rising from the lake, this image of a black headed gull coming in to land was one of my favourites from the visit.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Reed buntings were busy collecting nesting material amongst the reed mace. Again, with the sun lighting the scene from behind, it creates a nice silhouette effect, highlighting the material it carries in its mouth.
Copyright Ed Marshall. And finally, even a species as common as Canada Geese can be transformed by early morning light, and the right conditions.
This week in the blog, I’ll be catching you all up with some of the emails that I receive regarding everything from wildlife stories, identification help, and the questions and photographs that you all send in to the team here at Natures Home magazine. I love this part of what I do with the RSPB, so it’s only fair that I talk about it! As I’m normally off gallivanting with my camera, and due to the sheer volume of emails that we receive, I often play catch up with the emails for which I apologise. But I do my absolute best to answer each and every email I receive, and I may even cover an email that you sent in yourself a little while ago, so do read on!
The question that I chose for this week’s blog comes from Sarah Isherwood-Harris, who asks if birds of prey such as kestrels perch atop poles and posts in order to conserve their energy. Her question was even accompanied with a lovely image of a Kestrel taking off from a lamp post!
Photo by Sarah Isherwood-Harris
Birds of prey such as kestrels will use high points within their territory to their advantage. It grants them a view out over the area that they typically hunt, and they would much rather save their energy by perching and looking out over the field instead of flying and hovering. I’ve seen this behaviour myself in an area local to where I live. Telephone wires run directly through the middle of a field that the kestrels hunt in, and they often perch at various points along the wire as it gives them a clear view with which to spot voles and mice to prey upon. You can read more about kestrels on the RSPB’s web page.
First up is one of the many identification requests that are sent in to us here at Natures Home magazine. This one I wouldn’t have actually got had I not encountered the same little critter just a few days before the email, resulting in me looking it up myself. At a glance it looks a little unusual for what it is, so let’s see what you all make of it. Post your guesses in the comments below! I have a feeling this could be an easy one for many of you out there...
Photo by Norman Hall – Norman found some of these peculiar flying insects in his conservatory in August. Do you know what it is? All shall be revealed in good time!
Over the weeks since the Big Garden Birdwatch there have been large numbers of emails expressing their frustration at their garden birds! Why? Well, it seems that for some of our readers, the birds of their garden caught wind of the dates that the Big Garden Birdwatch was taking place this year, and decided to boycott it! Never fear though, because the results of the Birdwatch for 2014 have been released, and you can read a little more about what we found out on the Birdwatch results page, as well as some handy tips on how you and your family can provide for the wildlife in your garden.
You will notice that the mild winter weather that we’ve had has resulted in a few changes of position in the top ten list of garden birds spotted this year, and some nice surprise entries into the top twenty! Let us know if you had any surprise sightings (or disappointing turnouts!) for your Garden Birdwatch in the comment section below.
For those of you who take interest in what I get up to (all two of you), never fear! I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of my goings on, so I thought I would include a quick few words about what I’ve been up to. You can keep up to date with all of my goings on by following me on Facebook (Ed Marshall Wild Images) and Twitter (@edmarshallphoto)!
Last Friday saw me accompany the MSc Biological Photography and Imaging students of The University of Nottingham down to Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Having been before I knew that the best sort of shots I could get would be nice intimate portraits of the various species that you can encounter here, both captive and wild. There are obviously a great many wetland species to be seen at Slimbridge, but there are also many more common “garden variety” species that allow you to approach much closer than normal. I thought it was important not to miss an opportunity like this so I fired away, and here are just a handful of the images that I captured…
Copyright Ed Marshall. As they are more comfortable around humans at places such as Slimbridge Wetland Centre, you can get much more intimate portraits of common species. Try changing the perspective too by getting on their eye level.
Copyright Ed Marshall. A male Goldeneye duck, with its brilliantly golden eye!
Copyright Ed Marshall. Close up portraits such as this can reveal details that you may never have noticed before. Notice the elliptical pupil on this wood pigeon!
Copyright Ed Marshall. Even the much more timid species such as this grey heron are a little more accepting of my presence.
Copyright Ed Marshall. And lastly, it's important that you don't pack your camera equipment away when the heavens open. A plastic bag is all you need to keep the water off your kit, and with a little hole where the lens goes means you can keep shooting away to capture images with another side to the story.