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October 2016

Microscopic spider on Hen of the Woods

It's great to be close to home doing lots of photography but, it's fantastic to go away and get a chance to be more creative, to have a bit of luxury with meals cooked for me and above all, to have the company of friends who enjoy their photography as much as I do.

I seem to be becoming a creature of habit with an autumn trip to the New Forest to photograph fungi each year and then a trip to Snettisham for the great wader spectacular.

New Forest Fungi

This year I managed to spend 2 long days in the New Forest looking for mushrooms and slime moulds. I really love macro photography but it's surprisingly hard work to get decent photographs.  Then, as with all mushrooms, taking the pictures is only half the work.  There's all the drama of trying to identify the species when I get home.  I'm really no expert and rely on books, internet, friends and acquaintences for help.  Sadly, in my enthusiasm to photograph the next species, I always seem to forget to take any field notes about the species in front of me, and I certainly don't do what the real experts do for identification which is to examine spores under a microscope. 

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The New Forest is an amazing destination for fungi fanciers and photographers.  This year there were even more signs in the Forest asking foragers not to pick mushrooms and suggesting that it was illegal to do so because it had a detrimental effect.  I read a fascinating paper by Peter Marren in which he says 'there is quite a lot of evidence that picking, even regular, heavy picking, has no detrimental effect at all'.  Read the paper... it's interesting!

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  • gill_structure_porcelain_fungus.jpg
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Finding perfect specimens that are worth photographing is quite a task in itself but then there's the task of finding the best angle.  All good fun!  I have put these same photographs into a gallery.  If you hover over each of those images with your mouse, you should get the species name.  If you look and if they're wrong, please let me know!  Thank you David, Daniel, Sylvia and Guy for your help with some of the names.  
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I think my favourite photograph this month has to be the microscopic spider suspended under the large polypore Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa).  I first tried to photograph the whole thing, complete with its complicated multi-layered structure.  It was nestled at the trunk of a large tree and having done my best with the whole thing, I decided to concentrate on a small bit of it to do a more detailed shot.  And then there were the dew drops that reflected and glinted in the light... and then, even smaller, a tiny, tiny spider. I have to confess that I could hardly see it.  Three cheers for a Canon 180mm macro lens and a camera with live view where I could zoom in to 10x magnification in order to see the subject!
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Oh, and we found a beautiful toad who was happy to sit by some tiny mycena sp mushrooms to have his portrait taken. Bless him!
I'll go back to the New Forest next year.  It is an amazing place to go.  Next year I don't think I'll be in the company of Guy Edwardes since I missed my chance to get on his waiting list for 2017.  Guy, thanks for two fantastic days.  Thanks for the new ideas, for the company and for your excellent sense of humour.

Spring tides at Snettisham

Going to Snettisham in the autumn for the spring tides seems to be becoming something of an annual pilgrimage!  There is something quite magical and totally inspirational about seeing the flocks of waders as they are pushed off the mud flats by the incoming high tides.  After they've lifted off they swirl and swoop in massive flocks before finally, when there's no mud left to feed or roost on, they pour overhead and make their way to the shingle banks of the gravel pits where they preen and roost.  The sound of thousands of wings over your head is quite amazing.

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For the last couple of years, I've made this trip for the highest of the tides (in daylight hours) with Chris Gomersall.  HIs knowledge of birds is encyclopaedic and apart from that, he's really good company!  I don't think I'll ever tire of standing looking over the Wash listening to him describe and identify the incoming flocks of birds.  Where I see distant blobs or indistinct blurs, Chris sees birds.  "Here come the Pink-footed Geese!", he'll say and I just watch and look in amazement.  I'd love to be able to do that! Imagine being so skilled as to be able to know what those tiny marching ants are?  I wonder what the avian equivalent of that similie is?

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For some reason, I'm drawn to creating the 'blurry bird' images.  Not everybody's cup of tea.  Look away if you don't like them!  Nothing to see here.  99% of these shots don't work at all but every now and then, I'll find one that catches my eye and I decide that I like it.  The abstracts, the blurs and the patterns of 'creative Snettisham' intrigue me and I find that I enjoy this more than trying to capture 'realistic Snettisham'.  Athough it's fantastic when light catches the underwings of the birds, I seem to prefer the softer shots without the contrast.

I wish the wind had been in the other direction... too much bird butt and not enough bird beak!  Next time...

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I really wish that RSPB would hurry up and replace the hides that were destroyed by storms several years ago.  The view from the temporary shelters is welcome but far from ideal.  'Shelter' is a misnoma.  It's a sort of roof on posts.  The shingle bank is viewed from the wrong angle and the birds are too far away but I took some shots anyway just to give an idea of the density of the vast flocks.  I love to watch them as they sit there and preen and them when they poddle about in opposite directions.  There are such vast numbers of knott that it's imporsible to count, and in amongst them all,the oyster catchers who periodically get frustrated and peck out at the nearest birds.  Every now and then a Bar-tailed Godwit or Plover will turn up.... and this creates the temptation to try to create a 'Where's Wally?' kind of shot.   I really haven't succeded yet but it's fun to try.  So come on RSPB... you've been talking about this new hide for several years now.  I hear there are designs for a double-decker building, a building firm with a contract and a promise about 'next year'.  I hope I'm not writing this again next year!!

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This year, the usual toodle round the harbours and local reserves produced a couple of shots of gulls, a few other birds... and my first pictures of Bearded-tits.  I'm smitten!  Such pretty birds!  It was blowing a hoolie and the birds were clinging on to the seed heads of the phragmites and were being blown from side to side in their quest to get some seeds. It was the photographic equivalent of a fair-ground shooting range game! They were a long way away but I managed to get a few pictures.  Massive crops and room for improvement but I think they're the most beautiful birds.  

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Thank you Chris for your knowledge, humour and good company ...and for picking me up from the station and listening to my inane and incessant chatter all the way to Hunstanton!  See you next year.