MikeOxon

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MikeOxon
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MikeOxon

Postby MikeOxon » Sun Mar 09, 2014 11:18 pm

Although I have been contributing to the forums for a while, I have not previously started a personal diary, mainly because I have my own website and this seemed enough. I'm finding now that posting yet more photos of well-known butterflies has a declining appeal and so I have decided to try the diary format, to see how a new 'butterfly year' pans out.

I always find this time of year amazing - one moment it's Winter - cold, gloomy, damp days and early nights - and then, seemingly so suddenly, the evenings are lighter and the sun appears again. Of course, there is still plenty of time for spells of really cold weather but, nevertheless, the mood is definitely upbeat!

Last year, I was fortunate to see and photograph, in early March, five species at one of my local reserves - Dry Sandford Pit, near the village of Cothill between Oxford and Abingdon. It is one of a small cluster of reserves, which share an unusual alkaline fen habitat that produces a range of interesting flora and fauna. See http://www.bbowt.org.uk/reserves/dry-sandford-pit for more info.

DrySandford_Fen.jpg
Dry Sandford Pit - the open fen

So, with the onset of warm, sunny weather, I made my first trip of the year to Dry Sandford this afternoon (9th March). At first, it seemed very quiet and I scanned the warm-coloured sandstone quarry face in vain but, early in the afternoon, a coolish breeze dropped and suddenly, there were Peacocks ad Brimstones basking on the warm stones or patrolling the length of the low cliff.

Peacock_DrySandford.jpg
Peacock - Dry Sandford Pit - 9th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 300/4+1.4XTC- 1/500s@f/11 ISO400

I walked to a small patch of Primroses that were providing nectar for several visiting Brimstones.

Brimstone_Primrose.jpg
Brimstone - Dry Sandford Pit - 9th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 300/4+1.4XTC- 1/250s@f/9.5 ISO400

One Brimstone seemed to be having trouble with its proboscis and settled on a leaf for some time, cleaning it. Suddenly, all was well again and it took off in an instant to resume its search for females - of which I saw none at the Pit, although there were some in my garden this morning.

Brimstone_Proboscis.jpg
Brimstone Proboscis - Dry Sandford Pit - 9th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 300/4+1.4XTC- 1/250s@f/13 ISO400

Returning to the cliff, there was now much more aerial activity with, at one time, a foursome of Commas and Peacocks sparring in the air, before going their separate ways to bask on the rocks.

Comma_DrySandford.jpg
Comma - Dry Sandford Pit - 9th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 300/4+1.4XTC- 1/500s@f/13 ISO400

Then, at last, I found a Small Tortoiseshell, which seemed to prefer the more vegetated parts of the cliff face and was far more difficult to spot, when it landed, than the other Vanessids, which liked bare sandstone.

SmallTort_DrySandford.jpg
Small Tortoiseshell - Dry Sandford Pit - 9th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 300/4+1.4XTC- 1/180s@f/11 ISO400

The bright sun on the rock made exposure difficult, so I was using spot metering for many of my shots, I find that most species are very easily disturbed at this time of year, so I used a telephoto lens rather than attempting to get close enough for macro shots. In fact, I find that my Nikon 300mm f/4 lens, with a 1.4X converter attached, provides remarkably good detail, even when the photos are cropped to show details (as in the Brimstone proboscis example)

Only four species this year (missing Red Admiral cf.2013) but still a very satisfying start to the year :)

Mike

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William
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Re: MikeOxon

Postby William » Mon Mar 10, 2014 7:09 am

That Brimstone feeding on Primrose is lovely Mike - a real spring shot, one that I would love to get :D :D
Please note that I retain the copyright for any images I post.

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby Pauline » Mon Mar 10, 2014 7:28 am

Lovely close-up of the Brimstone Mike. Looking forward to seeing many more of your splendid photos.

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MikeOxon
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Re: MikeOxon

Postby MikeOxon » Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:45 am

Thank you for commenting, William and Pauline. I must try experimenting a bit more with my photography and also explore the earlier stages of the life-cycle.

Mike

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby Neil Freeman » Mon Mar 10, 2014 8:39 pm

Great start to your diary Mike with some lovely photos :D

Looking forward to see what you post as the season progresses.

Neil.

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby Wurzel » Mon Mar 10, 2014 11:28 pm

Glad to see you've taken the plunge and started a PD :D
Looking forward to seeing some more posts.

Have a goodun

Wurzel

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby MikeOxon » Sun Mar 16, 2014 8:09 pm

Thank you for your kind remarks, nfreem and Wurzel.

It's been a beautiful sunny weekend in Oxon so, yesterday afternoon (Saturday 15th), I decided to take a walk on Otmoor, just North of Oxford.

Otmoor is a fascinating place - an unexpected wetland in the heart of Oxfordshire. It was drained in the early 19th century and became a patchwork of fields that are supposed to have inspired the chess-board in 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'. More recently, this idea inspired opponents to the M40 motorway, which was planned to cut across the moor. A field (called Alice's Meadow) was bought and sold off in small lots, to create a huge complex of compensation claims that would all have to be considered individually! In the end, the M40 was re-routed and Otmoor was saved; a large part of it is now an RSPB reserve and the large reed-beds have returned.

otmoor2013.jpg
Oddington Church from Otmoor, Oxon

Unfortunately, yesterday, there was a cool wind blowing across the moor, which was sufficient to suppress the butterflies. I only saw a single Peacock, which was flying low in the shelter of one of the drainage channels. On the other hand, I heard the evocative call of a Curlew and managed to get a photo as it flew past:

CurlewOtmoor2014.jpg
Curlew,Otmoor - 15th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 300/4 + 1.4X TC - 1/500s@f/6.7 ISO400

Although the butterflies were lying low, a Chiffchaff was loudly announcing the arrival of Spring from a branch over the Roman Road that cuts across the moor.

ChiffieOtmoor2014.jpg
Chiffchaff, Otmoor - 15th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 300/4 + 1.4X TC - 1/750s@f/5.6 ISO400

Today, Sunday, I stayed at home, enjoying sunshine in the garden. Several Brimstones passed through, including a pair (M&F) circling around each other, though they didn't stop in my garden. There were also several Peacocks passing through but none paused for their portrait!

Mike

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby David M » Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:01 pm

Great shot of the curlew, Mike. Nice image too of the Chiffchaff. We heard this bird's call whilst doing scrub management at Alun Valley in Glamorgan on Sunday, but none of us could locate the bird itself. :(

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby MikeOxon » Mon Mar 17, 2014 3:29 pm

I'm pleased you like the shots, David M.

My 300f4 lens has a focus range switch, which allows selection of either the full range (down to 1.4m) or just the distant range (>3m), where the AF is much faster. When I am hoping for butterflies, I set the full range so, when the Curlew suddenly appeared, the AF was too slow to grab it. Fortunately, after I had switched range, the bird returned, so I got my shot after all! It doesn't happen like that very often :)

The Chiffchaff also needed some field-craft, since it was ahead of me on the track and directly into the sun, when I first spotted it. I walked very slowly along the path, keeping my eyes down and hoping not to flush it, then, when it was behind me, I turned and managed just this one shot before it decided it did not like the look of me! The ruffled nape is evidence of the fairly strong wind that was blowing across the moor.

Mike

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby Pauline » Wed Mar 19, 2014 6:56 am

I'm in awe of your bird photos Mike as I still struggle with mine. Lovely Chiffchaff which is a bird I've often heard but never seen.

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby MikeOxon » Wed Mar 19, 2014 11:53 am

Thank you Pauline. Early Spring,before the leaves are out, is the best time to see Chiffchaffs. They often sing from a high exposed branch but, I agree, they are often surprisingly difficult to spot.

I think bird photography is an area where the DSLR with a fast AF lens really comes into its own. I had no success at all before digital and have a better rate with my D300s / 300f4 combination. than with my older D70. The AF is now lightning fast and tracks a moving bird. Combined with a shooting rate of nearly 8 frames per second, it almost makes the job easy :)

Mike

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby Maximus » Tue Mar 25, 2014 7:08 pm

Great start to your PD Mike, some splendid images already. I particuarly like the Otmoor landscape and bird shots, very nice Chiffchaff photo.

Mike

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby MikeOxon » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:44 pm

It was a glorious day of sunshine on Saturday (29th) at the RHS Wisley garden, where we had gone for the Orchid Show - what astonishing variety is to be found in the plant world! The Alpine House is also looking excellent at present, as are the Camellias and Magnolias on Battleston Hill.. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of Brimstones and Peacocks out in the sunshine. In the Glasshouse, I saw just one deceased reminder of the Butterfly event earlier in the year:

TreeNymph.jpg

With fine weather continuing on Sunday (30th), I paid a visit to my local BBOWT nature reserve at Dry Sandford Pit. Spring was firmly in the air, with plenty of Catkins on the trees and Primroses and Violets in profusion.

DrySandford.jpg
Dry Sandford Pit, Oxon

Let's hope that the Violets augur well for Fritillaries later in the year!

Violets.jpg
Bank of Violets - Dry Sandford

I took several photos of Brimstones, Peacocks, and Small Tortoiseshells at this site, many in excellent condition, presumably as a result of a mild Winter. I've decided to have a go at taking photos of butterflies in flight, so practised on some of the Peacocks that were spiralling overhead. It's not easy to keep them within the frame and in focus, and my attempts were not very successful. It's interesting to see how close the encounters can be; possibly, these are the source of some of the wing damage that is often seen.

ButsFlight.jpg
Peacocks sparring - 30th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 70-300VR zoom - 1/750s@f/9.5 ISO400
ButsFlight.jpg (8.67 KiB) Viewed 2079 times

The camera settings were a mistake, as I had left the aperture that I'd been using for close-up shots. I generally use aperture-priority mode and should have set the aperture wide open, to secure the fastest possible shutter speed. No matter how automated the camera, the photographer still has to remember to make appropriate choices :)

Butterflies in flight are especially difficult, because of their erratic, rapid flight. I had much more success with some Hover Flies which, although much smaller, do stay in the same place for short periods. I was interested to see the way they sometimes held their legs outstretched in a cluster. Is this, perhaps, a way of stabilising their flight during the hover?

HoverFly.jpg
Hover Fly - 30th March 2014
Nikon D300s with 70-300VR - 1/3000s@f/5.6 ISO400

Perhaps someone can identify the species from this photo?

Mike
Last edited by MikeOxon on Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby Padfield » Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:14 pm

Interesting experiment, Mike - and I think the flight pictures are great!

I can't ID the hoverfly - but yes, hoverflies do often appear in crystal-clear focus in mid-air in butterfly photographs. They are much more obliging flight subjects because they take the trouble to pose for one!

Guy
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Re: MikeOxon

Postby robpartridge » Tue Apr 01, 2014 7:36 am

Hello Mike,

I like the flight shots and will be having a go at that. It's useful to see habitats as well, as a change from basking butterflies!

Rob

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby MikeOxon » Wed Apr 02, 2014 3:58 pm

After several good days, the weather locally has turned very dull, plus a liberal sprinkling of Saharan dust over the cars! In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the local butterflies seem to have taken cover!

I was very pleased, however, to be able to photograph, once again, the leucistic Starling that has been visiting our garden for several years.

WhiteStarling2014.jpg
Leucistic Starling, Abingdon - 2nd April 2014
Nikon D300s with 70-300VR zoom (through window) - 1/500s@f/8 ISO800

This story started for me when I spotted a young, pure white Starling on a neighbour's roof on 8th October 2008. A year passed and I saw nothing more of the bird until, suddenly, on 9th September 2009, something unusual caught my eye and I looked out of my window towards the garden bird feeders to see, once again, a pure white Starling! 2011 marked a major milestone in her life since, towards the end of May, she appeared at my feeders with two offspring, both normally coloured. She was back at the garden feeders in May 2012, with a new brood of two offspring and it was during that Summer that she posed for my favourite photo of her.

WhiteStarling2012.jpg
Starling with young, Abingdon - 14th May 2012
Nikon D300s with 300/4 lens + 1.4X TC - 1/750s@f/5.6 ISO 400

She returned again to my garden last year to breed successfully but I did not seen her again after 28th May 2013 although I had received one or two reports of sightings, from around the local area. Then, she paid a fleeting visit on 12th February, this year. Over the last few days, she has, once again, become a regular visitor, so I am hoping she may breed successfully again in her sixth year.

She has certainly proved that, despite being 'different', she could survive and succeed in fulfilling her role within the Starling community! There are more photos of her on the 'Birds' pages of my website at http://home.btconnect.com/mike.flemming/birds2.htm and on some later pages

Mike

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby robpartridge » Wed Apr 02, 2014 4:15 pm

An amazing bird and an amazing story,

Rob

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby Pauline » Wed Apr 02, 2014 4:18 pm

Have you got room for another visitor for a couple of weeks Mike? :lol: I know I have seen some of these shots before but they still amaze me and it is something I would love to see. The closest I have ever got was some years ago with this Crow (please feel free to delete)

AUT_4854.JPG

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MikeOxon
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Re: MikeOxon

Postby MikeOxon » Wed Apr 02, 2014 5:02 pm

Hi Pauline,

Thank you for showing me your photo. I believe that Crows and Blackbirds do show some white fairly frequently but, from my web searches, it seems very uncommon in Starlings. What I find so amazing is how, with such a 'different' appearance, she has survived and proved such a successful breeding bird. When I had not seen her at all since last May, I thought that perhaps her time was up. it's hard to explain how delighted both my wife and I were to see her again :)

Mike

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Re: MikeOxon

Postby Neil Hulme » Wed Apr 02, 2014 6:04 pm

Hi Mike,
That's a remarkable bird and an excellent image of it with its youngster.
BWs, Neil


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