Blog 13 - All the small things

So, macro. For some people,  macro means delving into a mysterious world not usually seen, but for most it means boring bug shots.

Although I love every aspect of wildlife and the natural world, I have to admit that until recently, when it came to photography, I fell into the later category.

Some of you may remember that last year I helped out with a couple of children's macro photography workshops. They went so well that by the end of most sessions they were completely engrossed in taking photographs. Which resulted in me having time enough to take the photos like the one you see below.

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So a year on and as a result of that successes, the RSPB made some adult macro workshops available, and I was asked to help lead them with my friend and boss, John. I was by no means an expert in macro but I knew my way around a camera and photography in general so I said yes. And I couldn't be happier that I did.

Towards the end of the first session we were taken (by the RSPB guide accompanying us) to an area usually out of bounds for the public. By that stage in the day, as with the children, everyone felt that they had learnt something and were quite happy putting that into practice. So I got my camera out and gave it a go myself.

Unlike my usual type of wildlife photography I found myself being able to control the image a lot more than I can with birds taunting me in the distance or foxes hiding in frustratingly long grass. If something was in the way, I could move it, if the angle wasn't right, I could move myself without disturbing the insect. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it. It was wildlife photography but without the stress and panic that comes with only having brief glimpses of what you waited hours for. The shot below (common blue damselfly) was what I came away with that day and is now the home screen on my phone, and possibly a piece for my upcoming exhibition in November.

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The next session confirmed that this relaxed feeling and heightened level of enjoyment was not fluke. Resulting in the image of a Skipper below.

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With this new found perspective, I now had a couple of shots in mind that I thought quite achievable. The first was a shot showing a freshly emerged dragonfly and its nymph case as a mirror image. The second was a dragonfly or a damselfly front on with a thin piece of grass between its eyes. So I popped back to Pullborough (the RSPB reserve) during the week. I went early because I had been told that I would stand the highest chance of seeing emerging dragonfly's in the morning. Information which turned out to be spot on, I saw four in just that morning.

The shot below is the result of an hour stood on one leg, slowing absorbing what felt like the entire pond into my sock.

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This last shot is a shot that, as I said I had in mind. One that I had imagined for quite some time before this summer even. Though, although I had faith in it being a strong shot, it turned out to be the best photo I have taken so far this year. Unfortunately that is not something I can take credit for.

I had gotten myself into position, opposite this emerald damselfly and had begun to take shots. I had corrected my settings and was just tweaking the composition repeatedly to get it as spot on as I could. Then, out of nowhere it decided to give its eyes a little wipe. This gave the photo a whole new look, it added movement, humour, character and an extra level of interest. I couldn't be happier with this shot and think it will probably end up being my favourite shot that I take this year.

I have to say, coming away from my recent macro activities I find that I enjoy it mainly due to a combination of all the small things. The fact I can take my time, the fact I am able to experiment creatively and that I get to see new things all the time. Not that I can pronounce a lot of the new insects I find. It really has revitalised my love for wildlife and photography of all kinds.

So please, if you have an interest in wildlife and/or wildlife photography, give it a go! Most cameras have a macro setting, and if you have a DSLR you can by very cheap macro lenses second hand. All but one of the photo's about were taken on a £80, second hand, sigma 105mm f2.8. Most lenses these days are well into the hundreds of pounds, so macro is very cheap relatively speaking. I hope you find something fascinating and let your creativeity flow!

Blog 12 - Puffins, not just cute

So, I think speak for all wildlife enthusiasts when I say that puffins are one of the most adored, loved and dare i say iconic species of the UK, if not Europe!  

Ok, i may be getting a little carried away... But I challenge you to find someone who finds puffins dull or ugly. So, what if you are a wildlife enthusiast who also loves photography? Well there is no place better in my mind than the island of Skomer off of the Pembrokeshire coast in wales.

The island itself is a short boat trip from the mainland, but although you are only minutes from civilisation, you quickly find yourself lost in a fantasy-like world surrounded by more than 20,000 puffins. Animals seem to be almost friendly towards you and it allows people like me a rare opportunity to take their time photographing a much loved species.

Knowing I was going to have plenty of photographic opportunities I decided I wanted to try and photograph the puffins a little differently. This was by no means planned, but after the first instance of having to move my bag to let a patient puffin waddle past, I decided I wanted to capture the characters of the puffins as much as i could.

It is too easily forgotten how tough these birds are. When the chicks (or puffling if you prefer) reach around 70% of the weight of the adults, they leave their little burrows in the middle of the night to avoid predators. With a bit of luck, they are way beyond the sight of land before the sun rises. They are then on their own for two years. Bobbing around on huge oceans and unforgivingly rough seas, they don't return until two years later.

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If that wasn't enough, if they do return and breed successfully, they have to run the gauntlet. Being such successful hunters of sand eels (the fish that they so famously cram into their beaks) gulls have decided its easier to steal from them and often grab them in mid air and visciously throw them to make them drop their hard earned dinner. Because of this the puffins have to be quick and choose their window of opportunity carefully in order to make it back to the burrow with a beack full.

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Cleverly a lot of puffins have started to nest along the footpaths on Skomer. They have realised that the people that visit very rarely provide any danger, other than the occasional bag accidently blocking their burrow entrance. The gulls however are still very wary of humans and wont come nearly as close. So you very quickly learn to watch your step for fear of treading on a comuting puffin.

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One way in which i tried to get a different angle on puffins was to photograph them in black and white. Most of the time when people look at a puffin they see just the resplendent colour (and quite right too). But spending a few hours sat amongst them i found them to be much more hardy, boystrous and characterful than their cute reputation would lead you to believe.

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Having said that, they really do appear to be quite social animals. I often observed puffins stood together facing out over the cliffs and partaking in what I can only compare to two men sat in a pub after work, sharing stories of hardship.

After it all though, the young years at sea, running the gauntlet and keeping up the hardy disposition, there is always time for a bit of a rest, and quite justifiably too. Though its scenes like this that i suppose leave people just seeing puffins as cute. Which was an image I was trying to challenge... 

Well, hopefully some of you will look at puffins with a little bit more respect from now on, even if they are undeniably cute.

Blog 11 - The Red Sky

So a few months ago me, my brother and our friend decided to take a trip to Wales. We had recently started a You Tube channel which aimed to cover everything about the outdoors. But we needed content.

Seeing as there is only so much you can do in Bognor Regis when it comes to outdoor activity, we chose to go for a long weekend in Wales with the main goal of visiting a small place called Gigrin Farm.

Wales is quite rightly known as one of the top places to visit for walks, fantastic views and diverse wildlife. As well as terrible weather. So, it was no surprise to us that, when making our way through wales we saw amazing views of valleys calved by distant rivers. As well as birds of all kinds darting through the woodlands and soaring over mountains. Of course, as I alluded to earlier, this comes at a price. We arrived to the wake of a hurricane. I can assure you this is not an exaggeration. 

When we arrived at our very remote (but amazingly situated) accommodation the internet was out and we were told the entire day had been spent clearing the 2 mile track of fallen trees just so we could get through. Still, the next morning we packed out bags and headed out to Gigrin Farm which was about an hour away.

When we arrived it was clear that I was the one who would be getting the most out of the day as the other two didn't seem keen on paying to sit in a hide. However, the day was cold, wet and windy. This meant that we were the only people at Gigrin farm that day. We had the place to ourselves. To my surprise this meant that my brother, Lewis and our friend, Adam were able to join me in the hide I had pre-booked for the purpose of photography.

The wait began. We were there to see what must be one of the biggest gatherings of this particular species in the UK. After about 20 minutes we saw a few silhouetted shapes gliding around a tree on the horizon. Soon, there was a shout, "guys"! We spun round to see what could only be described as a cloud of raptors sweeping in from hills to the left of the hide. They were following the approaching meat trailer.

The meat trailer pulled up by the hide, by this time the tension was mounting.  The kites's frenzied state resulted in the clashing of wings and screeches of authority ringing out around us. The sky was full (and I cannot emphisise the word "full" enough at this point) with Red Kites, England's largest bird of prey. And what a site it was.

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The first spade full of meat was flung from the trailer and madness erupted amongst the red sky. Birds dived erraticly, scooping up pieces of meat from the ground without landing and eating them on the wing.

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I took a moment to watch and really take in what I was seeing. This is a bird of prey that until very recently was a birder's prize sighting, something you would rarely see with your own eyes. Now thanks to projects like this one in Wales they are recovering, arguably thriving ! There is a lot of controversy though. Some say that sites like this are bad for the british ecosystem. These raptors in Gigrin farm are almost dependant on the meat provided. And there is some evidence to suggest that they are not getting enough variety in their diet which can lead to health problems.

This controversy is well founded and I have given a lot of thought to which side of the fence I would fall on in the debate. Personally, I think that the future of wildlife, in the British isles especially, is a very fragile thing at the moment. As always, its security can help to be ensured by the next generation. How many people nature enthusiasts would say they found a love for wildlife through a trip to a zoo or an aquarium. If there are ways of providing arguably more memorable experiences, without the fences or glass. As well as showing native wildlife instead of flagship species from countries that people may never get the chance to visit, then I say we need to have places like Gigrin Farm.

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If you ever get the chance i would highly recommend you visit. I can promise you a sighting that you will never forget. For more photos or to see the red sky from another perspective feel free to watch the YouTube video below. Thank you for reading :).

Blog 10 - Ghost hunter

I think every budding naturalist or wildlife enthusiast has had this experience. A well meaning individual tells you that a species you have been wanting to see for a long time is easy to see. Not only that but they know a spot where it can without doubt be seen. In my search for the Ghost Hunter I was lucky enough to experience this three times. Unfortunately I was also unlucky enough to come back with no sightings on all three occasions.

Until today...

Gerry (from the Image Circle) was now the fourth person to promise a sighting, claiming to have seen three earlier in the year when scouting for landscape shots. I had been to this spot before (Farlington Marsh Nature Reserve) with no luck. So I think quite understandably my hopes were not too high.

The day got off to a positive and peaceful start. The light was golden and captivating, with a sea mist rising from the outgoing tide, revealing a variety of fascinating wildlife. There weren't many people around at the time ( 7:00AM to be precise, which may in itself explain the lack of people ) which is always surprisingly freeing.

Me and Gerry strolled along the path that circles the reserve, eyes constantly scanning for movement and shapes that seem foreign or in any way different. We stopped first at a small spit of land that pointed in the direction of a small island just off shore. At first it seemed of little interest. But at second glance it appeared to be moving, in a foreign manner and different to anything I had seen before.

We soon realised that it was full of small wading birds that we later identified as Dunlin. They were packed tightly together as if it were the last piece of land on the south coast. Similar to Londoners packing themselves onto tube trains despite another being due in minutes. Unsurprisingly this mass seemed to burst intermittently. Flocks of birds fired into the air as one, before circling back round to do it all over again. One of these times I was able to get the shot you see below. But sadly, still no ghost hunter.

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Whilst photographing the Dunlin I noticed a Brent Goose off to the side, quite a distance away that seemed to have its head underwater. This is not usually the sort of thing you see Brent Geese doing, but the natural world is full of curiosity's. So, mildly amused, I focused back on the squirming and bubbling mass of Dunlin. About 2 minutes later I noticed the Goose still had its head under the water. So I spun my camera around and took a shot... As it turns out, when seal is backlit and at a distance, it can be very easily confused with a Goose.

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So most of the morning had drifted past by now and hopes were again fading fast. I was more convinced than ever that I was destined never to witness this particular animal in all its glory. That was until we stopped for lunch. As I sat on the bum numbingly cold sea wall to have my lunch, a soft shape glided silently past me and Gerry. I shouted to Gerry and we both sprung up and to our cameras. Missed it. It was gone.

It was Gerry that had so fittingly described this beautiful animal as a ghost hunter. I had seen it only for a second (if that) and I couldn't agree more. It was gone as effortlessly as it had arrived, just as I imagine a ghost would. We waited another hour or so before, finally, this ethereal creature put on a show I could only ever have dreamed of.

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A short eared owl. For around 40 minutes in total we watched as, without a sound, the ghost hunter stealthily stooped and swooped its way around clumps of bramble looking for any unsuspecting little mammal that may be unfortunate enough to be in its path. Owls have specially evolved feathers that allow them to fly without making a sound. It's no wonder then that we saw it take more than one small rodent by surprise.

It really did feel like a privilege. Watching this perfectly tuned machine doing what it was born to do. Made that bit more miraculous by the fact it was in the shadow of a large city and surrounded by people who were all showing it the respect I often wish everyone would show towards wildlife.

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Of course, a lot of these people were photographers themselves. But all were sticking to the path that circled its hunting ground. It really was amazingly refreshing to see. It actually left me wondering how some people can say they don't care or that they are not interested in wildlife. Personally I think those individuals are examples of people who have not had an experience like I had today.

Having a desire to see something that isn't simply a case of pay for your ticket and choose a date to suit you. Wildlife is rewarding so often it seems because its exactly the opposite. If someone told me that to see another I would have to try twice as hard, for the next three years as I did for the last three. I would. Because nothing can top seeing an animal you have been fascinated with, doing all you had imagined it would.

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So if you are not that interested in wildlife, or have simply never got into it as much as you had once hoped then think of that animal. That animal that as a child you thought was awesome, or pretty, or funny, or just bizarrely intriguing. Then go out and find it. Odds are it is much more possible than you think.

Oh and if you were wondering what this blog would look like on video, I now have a YouTube channel. So you can see it for yourself !

 

 

Blog 9 - Just one Pound

So this weekend I went to Brighton with my girlfriend as part of her 21st birthday celebrations. It was a great weekend with lots of lovely moments to remember. Thanks mainly to the Brighton sea life centre which, although small, is very much worth a visit.

India definitely seemed to enjoy herself, getting very visibly absorbed by tanks meant for the more easily captivated young minds. Though having said that, after I took the photograph you see below, I of course found myself doing the exact same thing.



However, all the tourist saturated amusements and fancies we enjoyed aren't what seem to be lingering in my mind 24 hours later.  After a very enjoyable trip to the aquarium (as I have said already) we found ourselves out by 12:30. We had a 3 and a half hour gap to fill before the starlings where due to show by the pier at sunset. So naturally, we meandered through the city's backstreets and lanes looking for a coffee shop, taking far too much joy in judging most not to be suitable. After quenching our thirst for self-indulgence we wandered the lanes once more with a quest for material things to remember our day by or maybe to prove to ourselves a good time was had. There seems to be no logical reason for this. Maybe its just habit. Having said that, India did get a lovely dress, and I found myself some very effective fingerless gloves which I plan to use for cold weather photography !

I digress. The thing that stuck in my head was that despite the colour culture and commerce going on all around I couldn't notice people that seemed to be sat in the shadows. I had always wanted to try street photography but with my prominent dislike for city's and very British need to avoid offending people I had never really tried it.

This particular individual caught my eye. They sat very noticeably between two lengths of fairly affluent shops. Anyone could have seen them, but nobody did. I like to think that this is the purpose of street photography, not that I claim to know anything about that particular subject. Instead of sneaking in a silently disruptive snap I decided to simply ask. I got out a pound coin from my wallet and walked gingerly over (still worried I may cause offence or upset). I gently dropped the coin into the polystyrene cup stood hopefully out in front of them. As it fell I caught the persons eyes catch the glint of the coin as it fell.

I asked if I could take their photo, to which their reply seemed almost apologetic. This is what truly sticks in my mind. Before I had gotten a word out I had been thanked sincerely and been given a true smile. They told me that they didn't like their face in photo's. Understandable. I said ok "no worries", smiled and turned to leave. But I was stopped. The person had gotten what they wished for and had nothing to give back but seemed so eager to. They suggested pulling their balaclava up their face a little further over their nose so that just their eyes were showing. I replied somewhat surprised "of course". I stepped away to take the photograph as they added "I'm sorry mate, are you sure that's ok".

As I started to take the photograph, a sea of people flowed past, nobody stopped to let me take the photo. The individual laughed and told me I would be in for a long wait. I realised that this was someone used to not being noticed. Yet they were still laughing. They still saw the funny side. A few more seconds went past (and a lot more people) and I got the shot you see below.

 

The more I look at this image the more I think about that Pound coin. 2 or 3 had just satisfied my sweet tooth. Another 10 had just bought be two and a half hours entertainment. Five had allowed me to leave my car where I wanted to. Four had bought me a pair of gloves that would basically do a worse job of keeping my hands warm than my current ones.

It made me think. How much of the stuff we need, do we actually need? When just one pound seemed to make someone so happy and grateful that they were willing to allow me to do something that they clearly made them very uncomfortable.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am never usually the sort to preach. I am still only 23 years old.

I believe that there are certain moments that happen in life that shape who you become. This photograph for me is that just one of my moments captured. I am sorry if I have bought anyone down before you go to bed. But no matter how hard a time any of us may be going through, I think we must realise it could always be worse and there is always a funny side.

P.s
Next time I promise more pretty birds and animals.

 

 

Blog 8 - The Garden Center Surprise

So, picture the scene, its a cold day, its nearly Christmas, and everyone is scurrying around the garden centre with loved ones in mind and presents to find. An act that although very generous or even altruistic can result (ironically) in a tunnel vision of sorts and things being missed. I had driven my mum to our local garden centre and whilst there, feeling smug as I had (for once) finished my Christmas shopping early, I diverted my attention to the garden bird area. Here, I was able to relax amongst the relative calm. Until that is, something caught my eye.

At first, what I saw could be swiftly dismissed as eyes playing tricks, or a tired mind. But when it happen a second time, what had been at fist a lightning fast flutter was now standing still and proud. A Robin. In the shop?

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At first I stood motionless, thinking I had rumbled a usually undetected creature. But apparently not. It proceeded to fly up to one of the bird tables on display and help itself to a variety of seeds and dried insects that were on offer. Clearly I was not the first to have been greeted by this little one.

Seeing an oppourtunity, I returned the next day with my camera. Upon entering the garden center I asked one of the employee's at the counter if I could take photo's of their Robin. Surprisingly the reply was "which one, we have three". Apparently they had three individuals which had made a home inside the garden center. I was directed to an employee that seemed to know more about them than others. He asked me about my camera and showed a lot of interest in my photography (this gave me an idea which I will come back to later in the blog). He pointed me in the right direction so I set up in the corner and waited.

Sure enough, within a couple of minutes I spotted a little guy making its way stealthily along the shelving.

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Knowing they had a love for dried meal worms and that Robins often grow comfortable with people, I picked up a meal worm and through it to the ground. With my macro lens on, and laying still, I watched. Eye's clearly on the prize it landed on the ground at the end of the aisle. Then, one cautious hop forward at a time, it made its way to me. Once it had, I was able to get the shot you see below.

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All in all, a lovely experience. Made all the better by the very open and friendly attitude of the staff. Which is why, on Wednesday, I plan to return with a 6x4 print of the photo you see above, framed. They had told me whilst there, that they haven't had a nice photo of any of the robins and would really like one. So hopefully this will be my way of saying thank you.

Blog 7 - Pullborough Brooks

Ok I know, I haven't blogged for a few days... weeks.. alright, a month or so. Having said that, the lack of posts is with good reason. I have been very busy, I have several projects under way at the moment. One of which will hopefully result in my participating in a photography exhibition. But currently, the more interesting project has been my recent involvement with the RSPB.

Over the past month or so I have been helping to run introductory photography sessions for young people, from the ages of 6 right up to 16. The project was aimed at getting young people interested in photography and/or more importantly, wildlife. The sessions were run by a RSPB member of staff and John, who is the manager as Sussex Camera Centre.

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Each session ran from 11:00 until about 14:30. Each participant was given a Fuji bridge camera and taken out to a couple of wildlife hot spots on the RSPB's Pullborough Brooks site in West Sussex. The first was the pond.

I assisted for the last three sessions of the project. Each group had a completely different dynamic and interests. Having said that, without fail the fascination with the large emperor dragonfly (shown above) manage to absorb the attention of every member in each group.

Everyone seemed to love the challenge of capturing its brief static moments on the waters surface or, more ambitiously as it flew. It was brilliant to see, maybe it was the draw of the peculiar appearance, its impressive size or perhaps the sound of it flying. Which whenever it did so it reminded me of old war aircraft thundering past (but on a much smaller scale of course).

 

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Sadly, I didn't manage to get the emperor dragonfly in flight myself (much to my disappointment). On the last day however a darter dragonfly (shown above) decided to turn up which, possibly due to its striking red appearance also captured the attention of that days group. Once we realised it had taken to using the same area to repeatedly bask in the sun we were able to let the children know. I believe some excellent shots were taken considering the lack of experience or knowledge that some individuals had. 
 

Seeing as though everyone seemed to be getting good results I gave it a go myself. Its funny really. Usually I find myself waiting for hours in a field or woodland somewhere for some sort of fascinating creature to turn up and I often come away disappointed. But pick the right time and place and macro photography can get you a lot of shots with much less effort and disappointment.

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In my opinion the project was very successful, except for one thing that I feel I failed at. I have a strong interest in wildlife as some of you will already know. With a long term interest in a subject you gain a good level of knowledge and understanding it. However, my interest in macro photography and insects seems to only just be beginning. So when asked what something was I very often couldn't give the answer that the children seemed to eager to have. Luckily in a lot of cases I was able to ask John who has a much better depth of knowledge on the subject, but even so it is definitely something I want to work on and improve.

With that being said we still found ourselves unsure of a couple of species I managed to photograph. For example the photograph below. It shows a tiny green beetle like creature that so far I have been unable to find online. It was photographed on the edge of a pond on a reed and so far I haven't seen one since...

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After taking students to the pond we took them down to the meadow which is teaming with life and a place that John refers to as the Serengeti in miniature, and with good reason. The first thing that hit you was the noise. Which was largely down to grasshoppers and crickets such as this one below. Secondly in the colour, followed closely by what you find when you stop and look. Even stopping and looking at a tiny area for a just a few seconds will result in you seeing a host of camouflaged and otherwise unnoticeable little insects, hiding amongst the myriad of wild flowers and grasses.

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Once the children realised what was making the sound and what they looked like, that soon became the next target. Of course this too was quite a challenge. If you have ever tried you will know that getting close to a grasshopper or cricket more often than not results in a swift kick of its legs and consequently its seemless disappearance into the surrounding undergrowth. It was nice to see that this didn't stop the children trying and again coming away with a couple of keepers.

The third and final challenging shot that seemed to be on the to do list of everyone involved was the photograph of a bee on a flower. I don't know why this one seemed to be so well sort after but throughout the afternoon various individuals would appear to show me their bee on a flower. Maybe it is because the bee is so iconic, maybe its because it is an insect they all knew, or maybe its simply guaranteed to look colourful and interesting.

Whilst I was trying to get my own bee on a flower (yes, I had to give that a go too...) I spotted a sort of hoverfly that seemed to be following a particular bee from flower to flower. I hadn't seen this behaviour before and couldn't work out what it was trying to do.  That being said I was still very happy when I manage to come away with this action shot.

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Thinking about it I don't think those three sessions could have been more successful. A lot of people seemed to be hooked by nature or the idea of photographing it. And, on reflection I think it was the challenge. The challenge tocapture what you are seeing but in a way that makes it look as spectacular as it seems to you in that moment. A challenge that is definitely tricky, but one that is more than achievable as I am sure everyone who participated would tell you.


Each persons best image is now going to be printed and put on display in an exhibition on September 17th at Pullborough itself. I am sure they will love seeing people gather round and enjoy seeing their first wildlife images, so please if you are free we would love to see you there!

Blog 5 - Pagham Harbour with Adam.M

Introduction:

Firstly, my apologies in the rather large gap between this blog post and the last. I have been ill the last couple of weeks, adding to that the general "life" getting in the way and you have two of the more famous excuses for the well know but not yet published "book". Moving on...

Pagham harbour:

Surprisingly I believe this is my first blog post which contains photographs from a trip to my local nature reserve, the RSPB's Pagham Harbour to be precise. Admittedly my first blog post mentioned my encounter with the group of turnstones at Pagham beach. But the more observant among you will realise that the word "Harbour" and the word "beach" are not quite the same, which means that although these places are close to one another they are not the same place.

Adam.M is a very nice gentleman that I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago whilst at Arundel's wetland centre. Following a mildly competitive battle between us both to be the first to get a photograph of a Tufted Duck diving (in focus and sharp of course), which you can read about in one of my previous blogs, we met up again last week.

Our plan was to photograph reptiles at the top of Goodwood hill (famous for both the horse racing track and the festival of speed). Somewhat predictably the weather became cold and overcast just as we arrived at a spot well known for reptiles. This, has hopefully explained the lack of photographs so far in this blog due to reptiles being cold blooded and consequently not very active without the sun.  Sadly that void is not to be filled with photographs of reptiles enjoying the sunshine. Don't worry, that is soon to change.

Still with time on our side, even if the weather wasn't, we decided to go to where wildlife was guaranteed. Once we arrived we walked along a path called the wall (a large sea defence made up mainly of boulders to protect the fields one side of it). With an eye out for the usually numerous wadding birds such as curlew, godwit's and lapwings we stumbled across something I had not seen before.

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Macro photography is something that I have only just started to dabble in so forgive me if this is your area of expertise and I have made numerous elementary errors. I hope to improve this summer.

This little guy caught our eye, very small, very ornate and could even be described as hypnotic in its movements. Again, those more observant of you will have noticed that it was not alone, and that the bokeh (the out of focus areas in the background) shows the outlines of another caterpillar. This photograph actually shows only two of a very large group!

The photograph below was what caught my eye first in all honesty, it reminded me of a spiders nest, crawling with young, but I had never seen this with caterpillars before. Unfortunately I have not been able to identify the species, so if anybody knows please leave a comment to let me know.

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As always, whilst our cameras were set up for the intricacy and maddening processes that is macro photography in the wind, we were treated to a fly past by a large group of Godwits. Usually this would be an excellent photography opportunity, sadly it was a case of change the lens as quickly as you can and grap whatever photograph you can. I manged to come away with two images that were moderately interesting at best. Although, under the circumstances I was very happy indeed.

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Pagham Harbour with Adam.M (3 of 13).jpg

I will be honest with you. At this point in the day I was starting to write the trip off as being one of those days that make the good days feel as good as they do. With our spirits being dampened by the persistent wind, and Adam running out of time we headed back to the car park. Adam packed up and started to drive off, not before pointing out that there were a number of sparrows very close to the car that didn't seem bothered by us.

Delaying my packing up I attempted to photograph a couple, optimistically thinking that this would somehow become the gem that we all hope to come home with after a days photography.

Noticing that some were feeding on the ground of the car park I decided to lay flat in order to get level with the sparrow and give a much more interesting and intimate angle. Which rather predictably caused them all to take off and land out of sight. This in turn resulted in various passers by coming to the conclusion that I must have been missing the fact that the car park was far less biologically diverse and interesting than the adjacent nature reserve. However, whilst I lay optimistically on the car park floor I spotted out the corner of my eye a flash of colour dart behind the front wheel of the car I was laying beside. Having spent a lot of time with wildlife I came to the conclusion that as soon the mystery bird saw me it would give itself a fright and disappear.

It didn't. Instead this bold little Robin poked its head out from behind the wheel, took a steady look at me then at my lens, which must have been a little perplexing. After which it decided to investigate me further wandering around me, at some points being within 30cm of me. Eventually it paused at just the right distance for me to take the two photographs you see below which I was very happy with.

Pagham Harbour with Adam.M (11 of 13).jpg
Pagham Harbour with Adam.M (13 of 13).jpg

So, in conclusion, no matter how much you think you know about wildlife it will always surprise you. Also, it doesn't have to be a rare animal in a ridiculously hard to reach location to make a pleasing photograph. I actually plan to print the first of these two images because I was able to use a low Iso and I didn't have to crop in post processing. This will give me a very clean image which should look brilliant when printed big.

Next week I plan to go back to look for those reptiles, possibly adders and grass snakes but I cant be sure. Additionally I am hoping to photograph hare at some point. See you next week !

Blog 4 - Goodwood and WWT Arundel

So, this week was rare week in which I got to dedicate a day to portrait photography and a day to wildlife and animals. On Sunday me and my sister ventured out to the local woodland so I could try out some portraits I had in mind. Followed by my usual weekly trip to the wetland wildfowl trust on the Monday


Goodwood:

So, starting with the trip to our local woodland, the top of Goodwood hill (in West Sussex) to be precise. I often go there with family to walk our dog, Poppy (who will no doubt be in several blogs in the future). We started by venturing just beyond the edge of the woodland where there is an area of tall thin trees that could be likened to soldiers standing to attention. I had this in mind for being the background to a portrait but I wasn't sure on much else. It was actually my sister Hollie that suggested sitting on a tree stump which lead to the photograph you see below being the first one of the day.

Hollie in the woods-1.jpg

It was a start at least but the overall image didn't turn out as I had hoped if I am being honest. It seemed, uninteresting for want of a better word. So, we headed to a spot where we knew there was a very large log pile that had been there for at least a year. To our surprise we found that the middle chunk had been removed leaving a gentle slope either side of the gap. Which, thankfully for us we were able to easily get to and take advantage of. The first attempt resulting in this image.

Hollie in the woods-3.jpg

I was a lot happier with this shot but felt it needed a little something. So I asked Hollie to dip her head so as to hide her eyes and add a little bit of mystery to the image. Something that may draw people in or encourage them to look at the image a touch longer. As I took the photograph a gust of wind kicked up which swept past Hollie lifting her hair and adding movement to the photograph which resulted in the image you see below which I was really happy with.

Hollie in the woods-8.jpg

As we got up to leave, and more importantly to warm up with the help of some tomato soup at home, we stopped to look at the log pile from another angel. This, unfortunately for a chilly Hollie gave me an idea for one more photograph.

Best hollie-1.jpg

WWT Arundel

It is now the beginning of spring. Which means, for the first time since I started volunteering at Arundel I was able to feel my hands without the need for them to make regular visits to my coat pockets.

Each morning I get to Arundel, if I get there early enough (close to opening times) I try to make my way directly to one spot or one hide. This is because most wildlife is very active in the mornings, and in a lot of cases some species simply don't show themselves later in the day, especially when more people are about. This time I decided to head to a hide I hadn't been to first before. It is a small woodland hide next to the start of the Reed bed walk on the far side of the park.

When I arrived I was a little disappointed to find someone had beaten me to it. Thankfully, after taking my seat I found he was very respectful and very quiet so there was little chance he had disturbed anything before I had arrived. We sat facing out to a collection of bird feeders. Inevitably they were attracting only the most common of woodland birds such as great tits and chaffinches. In spite of this, me and the other gentleman sat with our cameras at the ready, waiting in the vein hope that we would see something that would at least be note worthy. To my great surprise we were rewarded after only 20 minutes with a sighting of a very shy and rarely seen bird called a water rail.

WWT 21 March 2016-4.jpg


After enjoying what felt like a small victory I headed to the scrape hide, well known as being the place to see kingfishers. When there I met a man called Adam who was just getting into photography and had come to Arundel for the purpose of ticking kingfishers off his list of animals that he wanted to photograph. A list which I think anyone into wildlife photography has. We waited for about an hour and a half. But eventually we got a brief and distant view that Adam was able to capitalise on with his high megapixel Nikon camera body by cropping in later. I also came away with a shot I was fairly happy with. Although it is not the best I quite liked the composition and may try something similar when I next visit.

WWT 21 March 2016-6.jpg

After that brief wildlife sighting I decided to make my way down to the family area where you can feed the ducks and be almost level with the water. I let Adam know about this before leaving in case he wanted to make the most of his trip to Arundel.

n my way however I came across something that I had been hearing all day. WWT Arundel is an amazing place for wetland birds as I am sure you know by now. But at this time of year it also attracts hundreds of black headed gulls. At this time of year they are gearing up for the breeding season and making their presence known. This bold behaviour allowed me to get this rather intimate shot you see below.

Seagull calling-1.jpg

After getting this shot I continued on my way, taking my time and making sure to make the most of the warm spring sun.

Before I got to my destination though I stumbled across a pheasant, delicately clearing up the seeds dropped by the birds on feeders above him. He didn't seem bothered by me being there, so slowly I lay down in front of him and took the shot below.

I know some may ask, why make a photograph of such a colourful bird black and white? Well usually I would agree, but when editing the photograph I realised that pheasants have incredible detail. Detail that until now I had never notice, I think this is because of the dazzling colour of pheasants which usually becomes the only thing you can see. So, I made it black and white to hopefully persuade some people to look at an animal in a slightly different way than they normally would.

Black and white pheasant-1.jpg

Despite two distractions along the way I did eventually make it to my destination, only to find Adam had beaten me to it. I said hello and got chatting about various techniques to use when photographing birds on the water then got down flat on the ground, level with the water to create a really soft background and foreground. Unfortunately there did not seem to much activity at all today with almost no ducks other than mallards crossing our line of sight.

Thankfully the boredom was soon broken by the arrival of tufted ducks. Now, any birders reading may consider that not to be a reason for boredom to be broken. But it was not the simple presence of them that spiked mine and Adams interest but their behaviour. Tufted ducks are terrific diving ducks. Plunging under the water to feed and staying there with only the slightest movement on the waters surface giving away their position. So yes you have guessed it, the competition to get a photograph of the ducks as they started their dive began!

After around 900 photos, gasps of optimism, shortly followed by despair from us both and multiple camera setting changes we finally called it a day. When I got home I found a couple of images that could be considered a success. However I definitely want to return and give it another try.

Tufted duck diving-1.jpg
WWT 21 March 2016-14.jpg

Hopefully next week I will make a trip to Farlington Marshes on the outskirts of Portsmouth. There is a very slim chance I will get to photograph Bearded Tits there. Until then, enjoy your week and I hope you enjoyed this weeks blog!

Blog 3 - The Wetland Wildfowl Trust

So, in a week where I reached a milestone of 2,000 followers on 500px and decided to get a new camera (more on that in a future blog), I did my usual trip to my local WWT centre in Arundel, West Sussex.

For those who do not already know I am a volunteer photographer for the Wetland Wildfowl Trust. The aim is for me to take photos of wildlife around the centre that will be used for anything and everything. It could be used for their seasonal magazine, facebook publications or simply kept on their records.

This is something I do almost every week. Being at the same location on a regular basis means that I get to know the habits of the local wildlife and collection birds, consequently improving every week. This is ofcourse a theory, there is never any certainty's when animals are concerned.

Some weeks are inevitably better than others. Thankfully this week it was quite a pleasant one. I had a laugh thanks to some of the collection birds and got some images that I was really quite content with (though there is always room for improvement).

 

WWT 14 march 2016 1-2.jpg

So the first lake I got too on this weeks trip seemed a hive of activity. I think the collection birds had just been fed as this particular lake is usually incredibly tranquil. It may also have been down to it being quite early, the centre itself had only just opened. As a result a lot of the birds seemed to be going through their morning rituals of preening and cleaning, such as this Red Crested Pochard shown above.

After photographing the Red Crested Pochard I headed over to the hide well know for its regular sightings of kingfishers (the scrape hide). You are usually pretty much guaranteed to see a kingfisher there if you are willing to give up a couple of hours of your day. The catch is that the way it is facing means it catches a bitterly cold wind that sweeps through the hide. It's lovely in summer, but in winter sometimes its just not worth it. This week I decided exactly that and briskly moved on to another lake. On my way I was distracted by a little Dunnock (shown below) sitting in amongst the thorns.

WWT 14 march 2016 1-4.jpg

Distraction over I continued on my way, until I heard something that stopped me in my tracks. Being into wildlife I have found that there are some animals that seem to avoid you, however frequently seen by others around you. When it comes to photographing wildlife the same can be true. The long tailed tit is a delightful bird regularly photographed by many people and is one of my favourite garden birds. Unfortunately it is an animal that I am yet to capture (photographically speaking of course).

So, upon hearing what I deduced to be its call ( a faint, repetitive, high pitched squeak) I began to scan the surrounding undergrowth. Soon enough my eyes locked onto movement, a small group making their way along the hedges next to the path I was already on (but inevitably in the wrong direction).

Knowing that it is always best to let the wildlife come to you I made my way the long way round to the end of the hedges that they were moving through and waited. Sure enough after a couple of minutes one got close enough for me to take the shot below. A mini personal triumph if nothing else.

WWT 14 march 2016 1-7.jpg

The Long tailed tit stayed for quite a while before flying off in its unmistakeable bobbing style (which contributes to its nick name of the flying spoon). An elderly gentleman that had been watching me take the photo then remarked "he was posing for you". A comment which for a moment seemed to be true.

I decided to end the day on a high and headed back to the main building and entrance to the centre. At the entrance to the main building however there is an unassuming looking bird feeder, next to it is a large bramble bush, a couple of trees and an old chain hanging down from the roof of the building that has clearly been there some time. I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of birds that were quite used to people walking past. So I stood still in the shadows to see if anything appeared and I didn't have to wait long until I got this shot of a blue tit.

WWT 14 march 2016 1-20.jpg

It was a shot that I had visualised before when walking past but I had never seen much bird life around the feeder or on the chain. So understandably it was a shot I was very pleased with. 

Within minutes I had another shot in the same location but the other side of the feeder in the large bramble bush. This time it was a Reed Bunting. Although upon closer inspection it may be a different kind of bunting, if anyone knows for sure please leave a comment and let me know what it is an why. Regardless, a bunting of any kind is something that i rarely see so i was very content with this shot.

WWT 14 march 2016 1-8.jpg

Seeing that my luck wasn't running out anytime soon I changed my mind and decided to stay a little longer and headed to my favourite place at the centre to take photos. The area where you can feed the ducks (usually meant for families and children).

If you time it right and wait for it to be empty you can lay down in the corner, level with the birds on the lake and they will continually swim around and come up very close to you making them a pleasure to photograph and resulting in photographs such as the one below of a female chestnut teal.

WWT 14 march 2016 1- re eddited chestnut teal-1.jpg

This same lake is also home to one of my all time favourite birds, the common eider. It's a beautiful duck, native to the U.K, well known for its famously soft feathers, striking looks and its call. A call which will leave you wondering if you have stepped back in time and landed in a Carry On film starring Kenneth Williams. If that last sentence has left you feeling lost or confused a quick google search of the Eider's call should explain things. This week I was more than pleased with the Eider photograph I walked away with.

WWT 14 march 2016 1- re eddited-1.jpg

After laying there for about 25 minutes i felt something land on the back of my leg. I thought nothing of it at first until it happened again. I turned around to find a Manned Duck pecking at my trousers. I looked him straight in the eye, to which his response was to once again, peck my leg. This went on for about a minute before he seeming got bored and waddled away. 

A few minutes later however i was disturbed from my concentrated staring into my viewfinder by a very close sounding chirpy quack. I lifted my head and turned to find the same duck stood next to me about 30 cm away.

He then decided that my lens and the hand holding the lens was either very interesting or possibly edible (its hard to tell for sure without speaking duck and asking him).  He pecked his way along the lens even to point where his head disappeared into the lens hood (at which point i had to lift it away for fear of him scratching the glass). He then waddled away again, just as he did before (his photo is shown below).

WWT 14 march 2016 1-15.jpg

You would be forgiven for thinking that was the end of Steve. Oh, i forgot to mention, i have named him Steve Redgrey. I have called him this seemingly bizarre name because every bird is ringed for record keeping purposes. So that they are all different, they will all have one colour on the left and another on the right. In Steve's case he has red on the right and grey on the left. Additionally, Steve is well known for being at home on the water, much like the famous rower Steve Redgrave (in case you hadn't already figured that out).

Anyway, as i was saying. Steve returned one more time, this time he seemed convinced that my hand was of interest and decided to peck it frantically. Luckily, being very small i could barely feel his pecks. Steve seemed so intent on finding something on my hand that it attracted the attention of a passer by who took photographs of me and Steve. I feel i made a friend that day, and hopefully i will have more photos of Steve Redgrey to share in the future.

Lastly, before i left, i was able to get this rather abstract shot of a Canada Goose as it dunked its head looking for food. This is not usually a shot i would have tried to get but it was nice to try something different.
 

WWT 14 march 2016 1-14.jpg

All in all a very successful day at WWT Arundel.

Blog 2 - The New Forest and Lakeside Country Park

Intro
So this week I decided to visit my girlfriend in Winchester. Whilst over there we would take a trip to Lakeside country park and have a picnic. On the Monday, when she is back at University, I planned to get up before sunrise and head over to the New Forest for a day that would hopefully be filled with wildlife and photography.

Lakeside with India
So on the Sunday at around mid day me and my girlfriend India set off to the small council run country park called lakeside. It is in quite an urban setting but offers a few little gems (to be mentioned later in the blog).

A couple of years ago I when completing my Extended Diploma in Wildlife Conservation and Countryside Management I began to do a lot of voluntary work at Lakeside. Consequently,  when I returned it felt very nostalgic as we wandered around the edge of the two lakes on the site. It was also brilliant to see that the great work being done by the rangers there is still ongoing and that they seem to have had sizeable investment in recent months.

We stopped briefly for lunch on one of the many picnic benches at the site. At which point I unavoidably started to reminisce on times spent at lakeside, much to the amusement of India. This soon turned into a quick photo opportunity of course, resulting in this photograph.

Lakeside with india-1.jpg

I don't usually add vignetting to an image, but I find that the more I experiment (even in ways that I wouldn't usually find appealing) the more I learn. Not long after this was taken we regrettably had to part ways for another week.

The New Forest
Another day and another adventure. Well, I say another day, by the time I saw the sun I had been up an hour and a half and I was in the new forest (about a 35 minute drive from where I stayed the night).

I had been looking forward to this trip for some time. I think mainly because since passing my driving test I have not yet put it to real use (in terms of getting to wildlife photography locations). That, and the fact that the new forest is full of some of the best wildlife Britain has to offer! You name it, there are deer, snakes, lizards, raptors, birds and who could forget the New Forest ponies!

New forest and lakeside weekend-2.jpg

I arrived just before the sun rose  to a place called Janesmoor pond. I was trying my hand at some landscape photography as it was such a beautiful location and I was the only one there. I failed. Clearly this is an area of my photography that I really need to work on and practice. However, just before I left to try a new location I turned round to find that my failure had been watched by more than just one set of eyes.

New forest and lakeside weekend-1.jpg

Frustratingly, this small herd of Fallow Deer soon swept effortlessly into the thick gorse bushes that dot the new forest landscape, where they spend most of the day. This meant I was unable to get an image that I was really happy with. But maybe next time.

As I moved onto my next location I realised I had mad a catastrophic error, one that could change the course of the rest of the day, ruin the entire weekend or possibly end the world! I had forgotten my lunch. This was bad, really bad.

I only had limited petrol which meant that I couldn't go back to pick it up and then return to the new forest. So from here on in it was a matter of reserving energy so I didn't get too hungry too quickly in order to make the most of my visit.

Unintentionally I found myself at a quite small car park called Broomy Walk car park. It had several well trodden paths meandering away to the open heath, with a couple then disappearing into a conifer woodland. With my lack of lunch in mind I chose the only path that seemed to lead into a small area of broadleaf woodland. Once in there I sat down in a patch of sun amongst the trees with a plan of letting the wildlife come to me, and it did.

New forest and lakeside weekend edited-1-3.jpg

This nuthatch (one of two of my favourite woodland birds that I saw that day) was the first to visit. It seemed to pause and asses me as it held the nut in its mouth, before disappearing as quickly as it appeared. I waited for about another 35 minutes more before seeing one of my all time favourite birds. Can you spot it below ?
 

New forest and lakeside weekend edited-1-2.jpg

This tree creeper is a fantastic little bird, and one that I have only ever seen when adopting the sit and wait technique I mentioned previously. They feed by flying to the bottom of a tree and working their way slowly up to the top picking at tiny bugs and grubs in between the bark as they go. This was a sighting that quite possibly made my day, even if it isn't all that rare. Soon after seeing it I was beaten by hunger and had to head back.

Lakeside
After lunch I still had most of the afternoon before I needed to head home to Bognor Regis. So I decided to pay lakeside one more visit, but this time with the purpose of photographing a particular animal that I had tried and failed to photograph many times before.

The Great Crested Grebe (one of the "little gems" I mentioned at the start of the blog) is an incredibly beautiful and graceful bird. One that in my time volunteering at Lakeside I had only even watched vanish beneath the surface of the water whenever I got close enough to photograph it. This time was different though I had slightly better camera equipment and knowledge, plus I had a lot of experience photographing birds on water. This being thanks to volunteering at the Wetland Wildfowl Trust in Arundel, West Sussex. These three factors are what I feel lead to the two shots shown below that I am very happy with, especially given years of failed attempts.

New forest and lakeside weekend-8.jpg
New forest and lakeside weekend edited-1.jpg

I got these two images by picking a spot by the lake that was very busy and so the birds were quite used to seeing people there. Once positioned I lay flat on the ground so as to get the right perspective and used a low aperture to separate the subjects from the background. 

All in all a brilliant weekend, a lovely couple of days with my girlfriend and some exciting wildlife encounters. All made possible by the sometimes undervalued work of Britain's wildlife rangers, both in urban and rural places. I cant wait to visit again!

My first blog post - Turnstones

So today I decided to start a blog on my website, as I am sure you are aware or you wouldn't be reading this. I chose to start a blog because through my love of photography I find I am always learning and experiencing new things. So, I thought it was about time I shared these things.

This week I was working half days at work (a local camera shop of course) which meant I had the mornings to myself. On Wednesday I chose to go to a beach I don't usually go to, in Pagham, near the RSPB nature reserve. The weather was a bit windy and wet but I was lucky enough to run into a small group of turnstones and ended up with the photograph below.

Turstone at pagham-1.jpg

Shortly after taking this image though I saw the rain moving in across the sea. So reluctantly, with my camera equipment in mind I headed for home. Unfortunately it was not rain, and was in fact a rather intense hailstorm, the likes of which I had never experienced. Upon arriving at my car I could not even see into it because of the amount of ice covering the windows. Ice, which had only accumulated in around 40 seconds of it hailing.

The next day when the whether was brighter I returned. This time I unexpectedly found the same group of turnstones in the same place. So I set up with my tripod and camera at what I considered to be an un-intrusive distance away and started taking photographs. Thanks to the warming and calming affect of the sun I soon had this photo (below).
 

Turstones at pagham, march re-edited-1.jpg

This little turnstone seemed to be enjoying the warmth of the sun much more than I was. He sat there, leaning on the post for a good few minutes, occasionally glancing out to sea.

 Inevitably,  the group was soon off and moving again, foraging amongst the stones in search of their next meal. One however decided to investigate who this weird man was sat staring at them. So over he trotted, with legs moving as if separate from it's body and at quite a speed, before coming to a stop in front of me. 

I don't think I have had many intimate wildlife encounters like I did yesterday because once he reached a distance of roughly 7 ft. in front of me he seemed to be intently staring and judging me. I assume to deduce whether or not I was a treat. But it resulted in this photograph (below) and what I would call a very good day of wildlife photography before he carried on with his foraging around me.

Turstones at pagham, march-5.jpg