Saturday, 31 March 2012

Juvenile Hedgehog

A couple of photos of the juvenile Hedgehog which has been visiting the garden each night.
I would expect that this is one from last years litter.

Juvenile Hedgehog

Juvenile Hedgehog

These flash photos were taken through the glass of the back door. Why is there no reflection of the flash from the glass? Firstly I always replace the lens hood supplied with a camera with a flexible one. One which folds back when not in use. As the hood is flexible it is possible to press it against the glass and get a light tight seal which stops the flash reflecting back from the glass to the lens. Even when the camera is pointing at an angle it still maintains that seal. From my experiments this will only work with single glazing. With double glazing the flash is reflected back from the outer layer of glass and ruins the photo.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Hedgehog Time, Blackcap, Bobby's Picnic

Up to three different Hedgehogs are visiting every night now.  Here two different adults (different markings) and one juvenile arrive at various times on one night.

Early last night an adult was eating when a juvenile arrived. It appeared quite nervous and approached very cautiously. That time it didn't manage to get much to eat but did return twice by itself to finish off the remaining peanuts.

I haven't seen any sign of the Blackcap for several days so I guess it made up for weight loss on its journey back to England and then moved on to find a mate. I did manage this bit of video when it spent a short while at the Birdy Bistro.

Bobby has always been a Sun worshipper. During the exceptional weather this past week he spent much time dozing on the lawn. On one occasion he wasn't interested in coming inside to eat so ended up with a beefburger picnic on the lawn, complete with hidden medication.

Have a great weekend observing the wildlife around you, wherever you are.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

That Fuzzy Fly

While cutting the grass this afternoon two Bee Flies hovered nearby so I grabbed the 350D and took a few photos, manual focus. This was the best of the bunch - much cropped:

Bee Fly IMG_7671

Thanks again to Jan and Pete Smith for the identification.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wings on Wednesday

A Friend For Life
Most days the Pheasant visits the garden. He always keeps an eye on the kitchen window. If he sees me I can guarantee that within seconds he will be outside the back door waiting for me to scatter some peanuts.


Mrs Great Tit
I have seen the female Great Tit visit the Birdy Bistro a few times. Not only had she lost many head feathers but also many on one side of her face. From the latest nest box views she seems to be growing new feathers so it won't be long before it will be difficult to tell which is which.


Soggy Ladybird
As I was checking for wildlife in and around the pond I saw a tiny ladybird which was struggling on the surface of the water. I managed to fish it out and after photographing this tiny two spot ladybird I set it down in the sunshine to dry out its wings.


A Fuzzy Moth  (which turned out to be a Fuzzy Fly)
Was it a bee or was it a moth? It looks like a bee. It's bee size. It behaves like a humming bird. I guess it was a Hummingbird Hawk Moth. I spent ages trying to photograph it. I only had the Lumix with me and that doesn't have manual focus. The moth seemed to be playing games with me. It would often hover a couple of feet from my face as if waiting to be photographed but zoom sideways or backwards as soon as I pressed the shutter. So - the best I managed was this fuzzy photo:

My grateful thanks to Pete Smith and Jan for correcting my erroneous identification. What I had spent about a quarter of an hour trying to photograph was a Bee Fly (Bombylius major). They are amazing in the way they can hover in one place and dart around in any direction in the blink of an eye.


While I was sat in the garden on Monday enjoying the unseasonal 18C sunshine I spotted the Blackcap visit the Birdy Bistro. That may well be the last time I will see it. No sighting at all yesterday.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Mrs GT Examines the Nest Box

The female Great Tit spent about a quarter of an hour examining the nest box this morning. This is the complete raw recording so be warned - it is a lot longer than my usual videos. Several times she makes the next box flutter where she spreads her wings. Also she examines every part of the box including the hole the camera peeps through.

Mr GT turned up a short while later for a very brief visit.

I was hoping to set up a video feed from the box but after struggling for hours over the weekend trying to get two different systems working I had to give up. The problem seems to be making my router accept an outgoing video stream.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Macro on Monday - Guess What + The Sleeper Awakes

Congratulations and   gold star   to Adrian, Jan and Keith for identifying the spider legs shown in close up last week.

P1030479    P1030479full   P1030523c

I'm not sure which orb spider that is. Its web is next to a trellis and in each square of the trellis is a web. In the centre of each web is a smaller version of the spider. One is very tiny but all have the same black colour and white markings.

On to the new puzzle photo.
Guess What:

Clue: It will be quite a while before these 'a-wooing go'.

The Sleeper Awakes

Every night for the past two weeks Bobby has been checking to see whether there are any interesting spiky creatures about. About 8.30pm on Saturday he suddenly started wagging his tail and there for the first time this year was a Hedgehog which had woken from its Winter hibernation period. Last night I put out some crushed unsalted peanuts and soon after darkness had fallen there it was. It didn't move from the dish until every last piece had been eaten.

It will have lost a lot of weight during its Winter sleep and some extra high protein food will help it gain weight ready for the breeding season.


The male Blackcap is still visiting the bird table. For three days it has been on and off the table all day feeding for about a minute each time. I wonder whether it has recently returned to this country and is making up for weight lost on the journey. Unless there are more than one - difficult to tell. No sign of a female as yet.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Saturday Cinema - Blackcap

I was sitting here reading my RSS feeds when I noticed what I thought was a Coal Tit land on the bird table. I wasn't going to start the recorder but for some reason changed my mind. Am I pleased I did as the visitor turned out to be a male Blackcap. Last year I had a brief visit by a female to the Birdy Bistro but this is the first time I have seen a male.

The bird table used to be next to the Birdy Bistro which is fairly close to the kitchen window to give me a good view of the visiting birds. Last year I decided to move it to a spot nearer the bottom of the garden to see whether some of the shyer birds would use it. Now I have the camera in place I can see what a variety of visitors there are. As well as having a holder with suet balls I always have one on the bird table and it has proved to be very popular.

The Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) is a warbler. The male having the distinctive black cap and pale ring round the eyes. The female has a chestnut coloured cap and pale eye ring which makes it easy to distinguish the sexes.They can be found in deciduous woodlands with thick undergrowth and in mature gardens and parks. Most are Summer visitors though a small number overwinter having migrated here from northern mainland Europe. Nests are built in low shrub and contains 3 to 6 eggs.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Flutter - Bird Table - Nest Box

I have only seen two butterflies so far this year but that is two more than I normally see in March. This Small Tortoiseshell was resting on a Grape Hyacinth:

For a time to time I have considered fixing a camera near the Bird Table to observe just how many different birds visit it. Wednesday was a nice sunny day so I finally got Round Tuit. As usual what was planned to be an hours task took most of the day as I tried out a couple of cameras and different lenses. I do have a spare outdoor camera which I tried first but the results were poor so I opted for an indoor camera fitted in a waterproof housing. This is the first trial recordings: The wire mesh is to keep out the larger birds and give the smaller ones a chance to get their share of the food. (silent)

Finally - a few days ago I happened to capture both Great Tits making further investigations of the camera nest box.: One of them is the one with a bald head seen earlier. It looks as though new feathers are starting to grow. (silent and longer than my usual clips at 3min 30sec)

Have a great weekend observing the wildlife around you wherever you are.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Wings on Wednesday - Bumble Bee

Every time the Sun shines out come various insects including the bumble bees. This one was out on a rather cool day and I think it was having problems getting its wing muscles up to the temperature needed for flight.

Bumble Bee P1030483 copy

Bumble Bee P1030487 copy

That would have been a bit of a problem as it needs a wing muscle temperature of 30C to fly and the air temperature was around 8C.  The best it could do was to crawl along the piece of wood it had landed on.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

HDR Sunset - iPhone4 + Photomatrix Pro and ReDynaMix

Lovely sunset last night and this time we managed to get into the right place early enough. I only had the iPhone4 with me and after taking a few shots I discovered I could take slightly different exposures by choosing different places in the photo for the camera to focus. I use the app Camera+ and, as with other photo apps on the iPhone you use the touch screen to tell the app where to focus. What I found was, with something with contrasting areas of light like a sunset, not only does the app focus where it is told but also takes the exposure reading from that area. That gave me the idea of taking three photos with slightly different exposures to use for making an HDR picture.

This is one of the photos as taken by the iPhone:
The other two were slightly darker or lighter.

The idea was to transfer the photos to the PC and use Photomatrix to do the HDR processing. On loading them I had to change the numeric level of one as Photomatrix nagged that it thought two were the same exposure. That gave it a -1, 0 and +1 combination of exposures to work with.

My biggest surprise was Photomatrix Pro 4.1 gave me a set of built in preset thumbnails at the bottom of the screen with different results to choose from. Something I have not seen before with this program:


I chose Enhancer - Painterly and told it to process. The result being:


There must be a way to get back to the thumbnails but I couldn't find it so loaded the three originals again. This time choosing Enhancer - Grunge:


Those results were just as the program set things up and it would have been possible to add a bit of extra individual tweaking.

While in a tweaking mood I loaded the top original iPhone photo in Photoshop Elements 10 and used the ReDynaMix plugin to see how well it could achieve an HDR effect from one picture:


As the saying goes - when it comes to trying to reproduce what the eye sees on subjects like sunsets - yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice. The Grunge result I like as an arty picture though it looks nothing like the actual Sunset. Of my efforts the ReDynaMix is the nearest to the real thing though the idea of HDR is to achieve a High Dynamic Range.

There is at least one app for the iPhone which automatically takes HDR photos but the one I tried processes the photo immediately after taking the shots and it was a long wait before any more photos could be taken. With something as fleeting as a sunrise or sunset it was better to be able to take lots of shots and do the processing later.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Macro on Monday - Guess What

Several people correctly identified the close view of the Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) in last week's puzzle photo. Congratulations and a  gold star  go to Anonymous from Minnesota, Linda, John and Glo; with an extra to Jan's HLH.

P1030449c    Muscari - Grape Hyacinth

On to the new puzzle photo. What type of creature has legs like this?
Guess What:

If you need a clue then how about this extract from Sir Walter Scott's Marmion.

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!

No prizes, just for fun.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Nest Box Investigations + Wren

I had just read Shirl's post about the Blue Tits which nested in her camera nest box (HERE) when I decided to have a look at the feed from my camera nest box. Within a minute a Great Tit entered and spent a while examining the inside. In fact I saw it do this twice. Last year a pair of Great Tits successfully raised a brood in the box so I am hoping for a repeat performance this year but only time will tell.

The second investigation: (silent video)

Here is a reminder of last year's activity:

During the week I spotted a wren in the garden. The video has been slowed down a bit as they do rush about and it wasn't a very long clip: (silent video)

Have a great weekend observing the wildlife around you wherever you are.

Extra - Baldy the Great Tit:
This morning a pair of Great Tits investigated the camera nest box. It was very noticeable that one had a lot of feathers missing from its head. This possibly occurred during a fight as I have seen Great Tits fight to protect a favoured nesting site:

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Wings on Wednesday

A bit of a mixture today. The first is from yet another visit from a Sparrowhawk. Once again it was unsuccessful and landed on top of the fruit cage. I kept the camera on it vainly hoping for a flight shot. It is normally too fast for my reactions but this time I just happened to press the camera release button at the moment it was starting to take off. Pure luck as I was expecting a still shot of it sat on the woodwork.

Sparrowhawk Take Off

A while ago another of the fancy chickens had found its way into the churchyard. Not often I see such a  brilliant pure white bird. After a search through Google images I think it may be a White Cochin Frizzle Bantam.

Chicken P1030418

Lastly during the unseasonally high temperatures last Sunday (maximum here was just over 18C) it was a trigger for insects of all sorts to take to the air in the glorious Sunshine.. This lacewing had settled on the outside of the conservatory door:

Lacewing P1030473

Unfortunately temperatures didn't stay anywhere near as nice and at the time of writing this, midday Tuesday, it is dull, cloudy, just below 8C and feeling distinctly chilly.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Macro on Monday - Guess What

Four out of four correct identifications for last week's Guess What picture.
Congratulations and  gold star  go to Jan, Keith, Glo and Wilma who worked out that it was an ornamental owl.

2004_0815Image0008 copy    2004_0815Image0008

For this week's puzzle photo here is a close view of a late Winter / early Spring flower from my garden.
Guess What:

No prizes - just for fun.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

First Flutter of the Year

A few minutes ago I was checking to see what was around the pond when I saw a shape fluttering across. For a brief moment I thought it was a dragonfly. It landed on some gravel near the pond and stayed long enough to take a few shots.

The first Peacock Butterfly of the year:

First Butterfly of the Year

Brilliant Sunshine but the air temperature is only 14.3C.

Same cropped photo process using the ReDynaMix plugin:


The oval on each photo is the Ellipse border from the Border Mania plugin.

Sunset Tweaked

I missed the best of yesterday's sunset. I could see it was going to be  colourful but by the time Bobby and I had reached an open space it was fading rapidly. I took a few shots to see what could be done with them. All have been cropped for height.

This one is as taken by the iPhone4 with just a slight amount of tweaking in Photoshop Elements.

Sunset IMG_0196

This one is as the Lumix TZ7 saw things a couple of minutes earlier:

Sunset P1030452 r

and the same photo but this time (over) processed with the ReDynaMix plugin to get the maximum colour, I am always amazed at the colour and detail ReDynaMix finds in the dark and light portions of a picture.

Sunset P1030452

Finally a  zoomed shot from the Lumix with some processing in Elements:

Sunset P1030463

On an enlarged copy of the final view it is possible to see Belmont TV tower on the right with all the red warning lights shining to warn aircraft of its 351.85m (1,154 ft) presence.


Saturday, 10 March 2012

Nearly Springtime - Ladybirds

As soon as the Sun warms things up out come the Ladybirds. I don't think I have ever seen so many emerging at this time of year. Everywhere I look there seem to be dozens of 7 spot Ladybirds.

7 Spot Ladybirds

Some of those in this batch were rushing around at full speed, every now and then stopping to investigate another Ladybird. I guess the little boy Ladybirds were trying to find a little girl Ladybird which didn't have a headache. No sound on this video clip as there was so much wind noise.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Chaffinch Song, No Hands Bread Eating, Pheasant

A bit more birdy activity captured this week. To begin with, after days of trying to find a Chaffinch which had spent many hours singing I managed to capture this bit of video:

Yesterday I was laughing out loud as I watched a Wood Pigeon with a piece of bread which had fallen from the feeder where I put it for the corvids. In its energetic tries to pull small pieces to eat the bread was flying all over the place: A corvid would have stood on the bread to hold it still.

I think I have a friend for life. When I see the Pheasant in the garden I go out and throw a few peanuts on the grass for it. Yesterday I did that twice and each time it moved a short distance away from me. On a third occasion I took some stuff out to put in the recycle bin. This time the Pheasant came rushing over to me expecting more food.  In this clip it is swallowing one of the peanuts. I have seen it do this in the past when a peanut is only just big enough for it to eat. (no sound on this clip)

All this week's video were shot using an Hitachi DVC Cam.

The Difficulty of Predicting Auroras.
Yesterday the strong CME (Coronal Mass Ejection / Solar flare) from the Sun did hit the Earth's magnetic field. It did not spark off the possible widespread auroras we had hoped for. Why? There is a good explanation on the NASA site.
Imagine the Earth's magnetic field as a bar magnet. The cloud of charged particles from the Sun also acts like a bar magnet. If both of these imaginary bar magnets are the same way round there is a small disturbance to the Earth's magnetic field resulting in some aurora activity near the Earth's poles. If they are the opposite way round to each other then there can be a large effect resulting in magnetic storms and auroras over a much greater area of the Earth. Although the strength of a solar flare can be measured as it leaves the Sun, the direction of the magnetic field (which way round the bar magnet will be) is not known until it arrives here so it is difficult to predict how widespread auroras will be.

There may be a chance tonight - strong magnetic variations have been detected by the Lancaster University magnetometer in Crooktree, Scotland since about 06.30 GMT Let's hope they continue until tonight.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Night sky + Possible Aurora Conditions, again

It is possible to see three of the Solar System's planets shining brightly in the early night sky. Looking generally to the West after Sunset, Jupiter and Venus are easily spotted as the brightest objects in that direction. I photographed those last month as can be seen HERE though the Moon is nowhere near them in the sky now.

At the moment Mars is almost as close as it will get this year. Its nearest was a few nights ago but cloud here spoilt that photo opportunity. It is virtually opposite the Sun and will be directly South about midnight here. I went out 8pm. ish when the sky was relatively clear and Mars could be seen shining much brighter than any of the stars even though there was a full Moon.

There are a couple of stars at the top left and also near the bottom right (though you may need to enlarge it to spot them) with Mars shining brightly at the centre of this photo.

 Mars IMG_3821

I tried to get the Moon and Mars on one frame but the difference in brightness made that impossible, for my abilities anyway. I did take the opportunity to shoot the full Moon. Not the best time to show detail as the face on light from the Sun gives no shadows to emphasise the craters. After a bit of manipulating in Photoshop Elements adjusting levels to increase contrast this was about the best I achieved.

Full Moonm IMG_3818

Photos taken with a Canon 50D fitted with the Canon IS 100-400mm lens, ISO 1250, hefty tripod and cable release.
Mars shot:  400mm 2.5 seconds f5.6 manual focus
Moon shot: 400mm  1/800sec  f10 auto focus
Both photos are cropped.

Aurora Possibility.

A  lively Sunspot sent a very active coronal mass ejection out recently. Fortunately it is not heading directly towards the Earth but should hit a glancing blow today. I say fortunately as a direct hit from this one could cause all sorts of problems to power supplies and electronic communications. There is still a possibility of some disruption to satellite communications (sat nav and such like) and power companies are monitoring the situation. If this event causes auroras there is a possibility of them being seen much further from the poles than usual.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Wings on Wednesday - Stock Dove

Last year I used to have a few Stock Doves visiting the garden.  So far this year only one has been visiting, or at least only one at a time. I am always fascinated by the neck feathers which glint like coloured tin foil, especially in direct Sunlight.

Stock Dove 02

That is what makes it so easy to distinguish them from other doves which visit the garden.

Stock Dove 01

Most of the time Stock Doves don't build nests but may use hollows in trees and rock faces or even nest in rabbit burrows. There are no rock faces nearby. There may be a few trees with hollows but there are certainly plenty of rabbit burrows in the area.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Macro on Monday - Guess What

A good set of responses for last week's Guess What. I thought it might have been too difficult but congratulations and a   gold star  go to Jan, Keith, Wilma, Matron and Glo who all thought it was part of a Crocus, which it was.


As often happens I was struggling to find something to get close up to this week so in the end I dug out an old photo of one of the ornaments I have near the pond and gave it the Photoshop Elements treatment Can you work out what it is?

Guess What:
 2004_0815Image0008 copy

No prizes, just for fun.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Friday at the Flicks - Bird Visitors + Sun Dog

Not a lot going on on the video front this past week. Here are three recent visiting birds that I don't see very often at the moment.

Late yesterday afternoon I was looking at some of the swirling cirrus cloud formations. I happened to glance generally in the direct of the Sun when I noticed a small section of cloud that was coloured - a Sun Dog. Only the second time I have seen this and it was the very devil to photograph but I did manage one reasonable shot:

Sun Dog 1

This rainbow effect is caused by the Sun's rays refracting through ice crystals in the clouds.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Today I 'ave Mostly Been Paddling

With apologies to Jesse in  The Fast Show ....

IMG_7492 copy
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