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June 2014


Image of the Month



Female Black-tailed Skimmers

Dorset Macro

June was a busy month for photography.  My first trip was to Dorset and Somerset where, with friends Nigel and Ian, we chased about for a few days looking for macro subjects.  We also had a dawn and dusk session with Guy Edwardes and were introduced to a few more locations that yielded beautiful subjects.

Having got into the back of Guy’s car in Dorchester when it was still pitch dark, I remember standing in a bog in the Somerset Levels watching the sun come up an hour or so later … and then hearing a Bittern boom for the first time!  Magic.. what a privilege!

Lying full-length in a bog is a very unpleasant, smelly, wet and cold experience.  After a while, the water seeps through the allegedly water-proof clothing and you end up wet and cold.  However, as with all things photographic in nature, you really need to be at the same level as the subject … and sundews only stand about 2-3cm tall unless they have a flower spike. I can’t say that I’ve got a decent picture yet and those that you see here are work in progress.


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The highlight of that trip to Westhay Moor was finding the Black-tailed Skimmers.  First one, then two!  They weren’t warm enough to fly and so we were able to photograph them from different angles as the morning sun came up.  They are exquisitely beautiful!  It was lovely to be able to walk away and leave them just as we had found them; warming up nicely on the yellow flag iris.


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Flower photography is challenging.  Finding the perfect specimen, in the perfect spot, in the perfect light, with the perfect foreground and perfect background simply doesn’t happen!  It’s a lot of hard work to make a decent image and something that’s physically challenging too.  A few days of flower photography makes quite a good work-out!


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Adonis Blue butterflies were one of the targets for the trip. Once we’d identified a site with plenty of them flittering about on the wing, it was a matter of waiting for them to settle down for the night.  Watching Nigel patiently running around after these teeny little beauties with his camera is a sight that I will long remember.


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We really didn’t expect to find a newly emerging Privet Hawk Moth.. or the next day, to find two of them.  A real treat.


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Finnish Brown Bears


My next trip was to Finland to spend four nights with the beautiful Brown Bears.  It was lovely to meet friends at the airport.  I don’t find travelling easy these days and it’s a long journey to Martinselkonnen.  This was my third visit here and dare I say it, I doubt that it will be the last.  The more time I spend watching these magnificent creatures, the more they fascinate me.  I got into my hide in the area known as ‘the swamp’ on the first night at about 5pm.  These tiny little hides had been vastly improved by the addition of a potty with a lid! The bears are active at night and so human beans stay in their hides until about 7am the next day when the bears have left.  


I was incredibly lucky to spend time photographing a mum and her three cubs on that first night.  Forgive the anthropomorphism, but these cubs are somewhere beyond ‘cute’.  It is a fantastic privilege watching them splashing in the swamp as they play, explore, learn and play fight close to their mother.  The swamp has a variety of broken saplings sticking out of it and when you watch the cubs playing, it’s soon really clear why!  I love watching the behaviours and the communication between the mum and the cubs. They are always on high alert and ready to dash up a tree at the sign of danger from a bigger (male) bear.


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I spent my second night in a hide situated next to a huge pond… but the wind never dropped and although we had visits from many passing bears during the night, I didn’t get 'the' image of a bear with a reflection in the pond so I’ll have to go back again, obviously! The water looked like a turbulent sea with small contrasty waves.  At one point, the light turned to pure gold.  Unbelievable colour.  Later, the mum with the smallest cubs visited the pond and she posted her tiny little cubs up a small tree just 3m from me/my hide.  What a privilege!   


I’m getting to know some of the bears and recognise a few instantly by sight.  Whilst the teeny cubs are obviously adorable and very recognisable, I have a special place in my heart for a dark brown male bear.  This visit, he’d lost half of his face in a fight.  His cheek was literally hanging off.  I don’t think he won.  He’s already lost half an ear.  You’d think he’d give up but no. I hope he’s still chasing after those females next time I go out.  Here's a grotty shot of him in the pond soothing his sore face and then having a good old shake!


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On my third night I went to one of the hides in the forest.  It was frustrating because the bears came really early when the light was still too harsh which created lots of deep shadows and burnt out highlights.  In these circumstances, you just have to sit and watch or aim to focus on close ups of bears.  It was good to watch the ‘youth club’ maraud through the forest.  These collections of yearlings and adolescents had formed into unruly groups of all shapes, colours and sizes… and were out to have fun!


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I spent my last night in a hide on the swamp again.  It was an extraordinary night with every sort of weather from sunshine to rain and swirling mist.  The light went from bright to dark to murky and the dawn produced fiery red light on the tree tops.  The bears came and went… the youth club, the families, the teeny cubs, the solo males and the behaviours became easier to remember and interpret.  The play fighting didn't take a lot of interpretation!  The youngsters play fight, they get carried away, they get furious and fight harder and then make friends... reminded me of my days managing youngsters in school playgrounds!


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Oh, and here is an arty, farty shot to finish. 


Marbled Whites in Kent

My last proper excursion in June was as part of a wonderful weekend with Brett Lewis and Katheryn and we all had a great night with the legendary Philip and Fran Hurst. I went with Brett to do his routine dormouse survey.  He’s been surveying a particular piece of woodland with its dormouse boxes for something over 10 years now and it’s a fascinating privilege to go with him and watch the proceedings.  Box after box is inspected to see whether there are any dormice inside.  If there are, they are gently weighed and returned to their nest boxes.  I always hope for a torpid one and a chance to snatch a photo but it was not to be this time.  No snorers but a number of healthy, lively dormice :-)


Sunday morning before dawn with a bit of a hangover and I would have gladly turned over in bed and gone back to sleep but Brett and I bravely set off on a butterfly hunt.  We found a profusion of Marbled Whites and spent a very happy few hours photographing them as they crawled up out of the depths of the grasses and set off up the stems of their host plants to warm up.  The dew drops on the grasses were an added bonus.  Having found a pair of Marbled Whites on a stem, the game is to focus on them once they are in the same plane of focus… and of course, before they warm up and fly away.  It’s so difficult and not a little frustrating. I hope the locals didn’t hear me cursing and swearing!


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