Thursday, April 29, 2010

Singleton Park

A few pictures from a short walk in light rain in my local park this evening:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Taf Fechan Nature Reserve

The Taf Fechan Nature Reserve lies on the upper reaches of the River Taff, near Merthyr Tydfil. I became familiar with the area during my time living in Merthyr in the 1990s. I decided to head up there today, hoping to photograph the Dippers that occur along this fast-flowing narrow upland river.
On the long trek up from the town centre, I spotted a crow devouring this unfortunate frog:

Nearing the reserve, I saw one, and heard another, male Redstart, in the hawthorn trees on the slopes of Morlais Castle - my first sightings of this species this year.
The area has been quarried in the past, as can be seen from this shot:

On the highest point in the above picture are the remains of a castle, and there are great views of the Brecon Beacons from the top, although I didn't go up there this time. I continued on past the Pontsarn Viaduct (which once carried the Brecon and Merthyr Railway)

and climbed down into the valley to the banks of the river. I have managed one or two decent Dipper shots here before, so I went to where I had had success with this species before

 and set up a camouflage screen between two trees to hide me from any passing birds. Unfortunately, there was no sign of any Dippers in a wait of about three hours, so I gave up, packed my things away, and headed downstream. On hearing voices, I looked across stream, and saw two fellows setting up camera gear by a small waterfall flowing into the main river. They then disappeared under a bag hide, and I saw a Dipper fly close by, so they were clearly photographing a Dippers' nest. So that's where my birds had gone! It was all rather disappointing, having gone all this way for virtually nothing, so I contented myself with a few more floral shots, including this one of the uncommon Toothwort, which grows here as a parasite on the roots of Hazel bushes:

and a couple of pictures of the ubiquitous Lesser Celandine:

A quick detour, then, to Cyfarthfa Park, and a couple of pics of Cyfarthfa Castle

before heading home, tired and rather fed up!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pennard Again

Visited Pennard Cliffs on Gower again today:

Weather was sunny, but surprisingly cool, with a cold northerly wind, although a little less hazy than on Sunday. I walked along towards Three Cliffs Bay:

I was hoping to see the Lesser Whitethroat that I had seen in some scrub near Three Cliffs on Sunday. It was there alright, and was singing heartily, but from deep within some bushes, and was not going to emerge to let me photograph him. It was unusually birdless on the gorse-topped cliffs, which usually hold Stonechats, Dartford Warblers, and plenty of Whitethroats, amongst some commoner species. All I saw of note were a few Choughs, a single singing Whitethroat (no decent pics), and a Kestrel. A handful of Ravens patrolled the cliff edges, as usual.
Looking to return home with some pictures (however bad!) to show for my little jaunt, I resorted to fitting an extension tube to my wide-angle lens (a Canon 17-40 mm f/4), and trying a few close-ups of the small flowers that studded the short turf. This involved grovelling on the ground, and handholding my lens just a few inches from the blooms, and attempting to depict them within their environment by using a smallish aperture to gain a reasonable depth of field. Not sure if they work too well, but it was worth a try! Here are a few:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pennard Cliffs

My mate John (he insisted on his picture being included!)

 was visiting today, so I suggested that, rather than our usual game of golf, we go for a walk along Pennard Cliffs, a National Trust-owned area on the south east of the Gower Peninsula:

It was a pleasantly warm sunny day, but rather hazy as can be seen from the above picture. The area is well-known as a stronghold for the (Red-billed) Chough, Britain's rarest crow. It has also, in recent years, been colonised by Dartford Warblers, which seem to be spreading northwards, presumably as a result of global warming. I was keen to show my friend both species. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate any Dartford Warblers, possibly due to the culling effects of the recent harsh winter, to which these birds are known to be particularly susceptible. However, I did get lucky in the same spot about this time last year, when one popped up on the Gorse in front of me, and enabled me to get my best Dartford pics to date, including this one:

We had rather more luck with Choughs, seeing first a single, then a pair, and, finally, as we headed eastward towards Hunts Bay, a flock of around ten birds. I was able to take a few shots as some of the flock flew past. Having now examined them at 100%, I am disappointed to see that none of them are pin-sharp! Unfortunately, this has been my experience on every occasion when I've tried my new Canon 7D on birds in flight: virtually every picture has been unsharp! In fact, the much-touted autofocus system of this camera has so-far proved inferior to my older 40D. I will have to do some more tests, and it could conceivably be something to do with my lens, or the camera's settings, but so far it is looking as if I will have to return this camera for repair, or sell it!

Anyway, the haze rendered invisible the view across the Bristol Channel to the blue-remembered hills of north Devon, but being able to see across Oxwich Bay to Oxwich Point was some consolation:

On the way back to the car park, I spied this patch of reddish Primroses:

 Whether they are a genuine wild variant of Primula vulgaris, or some sort of hybrid with a garden variety, I'm not sure; but they were a nice complement to the common yellow variety which was growing profusely nearby:

Back again to our starting point, and situated overlooking the sea is this building:

Now a retirement home, it was once the home of poet Vernon Watkins. Watkins was good friends with fellow poet, Dylan Thomas, and both were part of a group of Swansea-based creatives known as the Kardomah Boys. Apparantly, Thomas regularly visited Watkins, and the two sometimes played croquet on the lawn beyond the hedge in the picture!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Walk in the Park

Early yesterday evening, I walked down to the Ornamental Gardens in Singleton Park, where I thought I heard a familiar-sounding screeching coming from the woods. I followed my ears, and discovered the Ring-necked Parakeet sittting high in an oak tree, screaming and preening, opposite a large hole which it was no doubt hoping to use as a nest hole. Very little chance of the poor fellow attracting a female, I thought!

Anyway, I returned again this evening with my photographic equipment, hoping to capture some photos of this unusual bird. I saw the parakeet whizzing around with some Magpies a couple of times, but was unable to find him perched anywhere close enough for some pictures.
Once again, I had to use the everyday species for some photographic subjects. This Robin came to my picnic table to obtain some peanut crumbs, and took some off to feed his mate:

I liked the background on this backlit shot:

The backlighting on this willow catkin also appealed to me:

My 500mm lens doubled as a macro lens for this shot:

Wood Pigeons must be one of our most beautiful, and yet under-appreciated, birds. The tame ones in the park afford great opportunities for attempting to capture their beauty:

Ditto the Blue Tit. What a stunning-looking bird:

Finally, a shot of the burgeoning flower buds of a Horse Chestnut tree, rimlit by the now low-angled evening sunlight:

How lucky I am to have such a great green space to escape to right on my doorstep!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tame Robin

Another walk down through Singleton Park, along the seafront to Blackpill, and then back home at dusk.
This tame Robin hopped onto my picnic table, so close that I could photograph it with a 50mm lens:

As I walked back towards home, spying a few bats on the way, I took a couple of handheld shots of vegetation silhouetted against the sunset sky:

Thursday, April 08, 2010


The sun shone, the birds sang, the flowers bloomed, and for the first time this year I felt overdressed, as I headed down to the local golf course late this afternoon, hoping the Wheatears of yesterday would still be there. Of course, they weren't! Never mind, and I contented myself with a couple of shots of the local Carrion Crows:

Some of the crowds of daffodils growing on the course were already showing signs of withering, but I found some still in their prime, and used the Sigma 500mm f/4.5, coupled with an extension tube, as a makeshift macro lens for these two shots:

I then hurried home to watch the U.S. Masters golf. A man has to have his priorities right!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

First Wheatears

A lovely and sunny, albeit slightly cool and breezy, day here in Swansea today. A walk along the seafront yielded my first Wheatears of the year: two reasonably approachable birds around the 7th green on Blackpill Golf Course. I didn't have my big lens with me, so was unable to obtain any pictures, but here's one I took in the same area on April 27th two years ago to be going on with:

Hopefully, these birds will hang around to enable me to get some more shots this year.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Sunshine At Last!

Went down to Singleton Park this afternoon, and the sun actually shone! Even some blue sky could be seen for a while, but it was still quite cold and windy. The Ring-necked Parakeet briefly appeared in the Ornamental Gardens again, but flew off before I could capture it on camera. Another bloke said he had also seen it flying around with crows. I was able to photograph this, one of numerous squirrels:

Brynmill Park was still full of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers,

and three or four Swallows graced us with their presence after a while. The local Mallard drakes looked resplendent in their breeding plumage:

All in all, a much nicer day than of late.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

First Swallows

Visited Brynmill Park again today. Was delighted to see my first Swallows of the year today - a flock of six flying over the lake. Later, up to a dozen or so were hawking over the water, often in heavy rain, and even in a hail shower. There were still large numbers of Willow Warblers flitting about in the bushes, along with some Chiffchaffs - some of the latter of which were singing. They sometimes came so close that I could have reached out and touched them. Also saw six Tufted Ducks (3 males, and 3 females), and a Sparrowhawk flying overhead.
Here are a couple of shots of the warblers: