Finally!

In all the years I've been wildlife watching, I've not had in my possession, a Scope! Well, not anymore! Big thanks to Gillian Jones for making this happen for me. I'll certainly look after it and make full use of it. This might not mean much to some people but it's a big deal for me, especially considering I'm well associated with Llandegfedd and you simply can't make the most of what Llandegfedd has to offer, without the use of a scope. It's such a large body of water and that extra magnification makes a huge different in identifying what would otherwise be a spec in the distance thru binoculars. 

Pressure is on now however as my birding friends expect me to find something good with it.. 

Below, a backlit picture of a Water Rail on an icy pond from my trip to WWT Slimbridge. 

Water Rail 

Water Rail 

WWT Slimbridge Winter Special

Theres nothing quite more thrilling than a stunning sunny winters day at Slimbridge WWT nature reserve. What an incredible place, not just for wildlife, but for people of all kinds. Families having a fun filled day observing, playing and learning, all the while, serious birders getting some fantastic views of truly massive numbers of wintering wildfowl & waders with their predators in the mix. Every now and again you're reminded of the amount of conservation work that has taken place their also, with plenty of ringed / satellite tagged birds out on the reserves. It's by far the best place for photography out of all of the WWT reserves I've been to, as the hides are setup with photographers in mind, with the sun at your back and the wildlife up close and personal. How they've achieved all this is beyond me, but it proves it can be done! I know you have to pay to get in, or pay membership fees, but in my opinion, it's worth every penny because you get so much back from it. You only need look at my photographs below to see that and these are only a hand-full of photo's that I took yesterday. Two views of hunting Peregrines in a place that I last saw a hunting Goshawk over the meadows on my last visit. I hope you enjoy my images below. The Water Rail has to be my favourite as it needed to cross the ice to get to the other side of the pond where the water had thawed in the sun. That said, there were lots of incredible moments, perhaps I'll post the images separately and talk about them individually on a later date. For now, enjoy.

2017's Highlights

While photographs are a great way of showing you guys the things I see, they only show part of what it is that I experience when I'm outdoors. It's the 'being outdoors' bit that means more to me than any photograph can tell. Yes, I love taking the best images I can, but without wildlife and nature, it would mean nothing other than just clicking some buttons. I've spent little time with my sound recording gear this year but I'm hoping I find the time to change that this year. It's not just the visual elements that revitalise's us when we're exposed to nature, it's what we smell, touch and hear. I can't share smells with you, at-least not yet, maybe one day?, but I can share the sound's of our environment and bring the outdoors, in.

NatureHUB

This is the objective of my new business, and while I'm still un-decided on a name, I'm settling so far on 'NatureHUB', a place to purchase wildlife media and a place for wildlife walks, talks and training. I strongly believe that Nature is the best therapy for people experiencing stress in their busy, overcrowded, noisy lives. When was the last time you truly experienced silence? If it's been a long time, maybe that's something for the to-do list for 2018?. If I can help you experience nature and learn more about wildlife in the process, then I'd feel much more complete as a person. 

Sound Recording this year as been a poor effort but I did have this beautiful mimicking Song Thrush earlier in the year to save the day. During this song I could pick out at-least four difference species. There's probably even more than that but this was particularly special as it was mimicking a Green Woodpecker! Of all the beautiful sounding birds to mimick, why it choose the sound of a Green Woodpecker?.. I do not know.. lol. Either way, it seems to work well the way he does it. 

To wrap up this lengthy blog post, I hope you've all had a fabulous Christmas and have an even better New Year ahead of you. 

Staying Local

Tree Creepers, Goldcrests, Mistle Thrushes, Meadow Pipit, and much more on todays outings. I love finding local wildlife. It means so much more than travelling half the country chasing around after wildlife that other people have found for you. Of course, I love seeing the country and all it's beauty, but I also seek to find the beauty right here on our doorstep. Who would have thought that we had localised Hawfinch? I certainly didn't. Though this winter is a particularly good year to see Hawfinch with a large influxes turning up all over Europe from places like Russia. There are a few theories as to why we've had such a large number of Hawfinches this winter, some say it's due to mass de-forestation in combination with food shortage.. Who knows?, but I'll certainly be making the most of them. Keep an eye on your local Yew tree's, often planted around Churches and you may just find some yourself if you haven't already. I'd even be bold enough to say that most Yew Tree's in the Uk would have had a Hawfinch visit at some point this winter, so it's well worth keeping your eyes pealed for the Uk's largest finch! 

Time, Business & Mental Health

The only advantage of being unemployed for four months in the year, is that I've got time to develop myself and finally start my own business. My choice to start this business was one made out of self pride, as I could well have signed on and claimed off the government, but I've been there before and during in that low period in my life, I found it extremely damaging to my mental health. Weekly visits to the Job Centre, being sent to interviews that had no relevance to me was really hard. I once attended an interview with only a nights notice from Job Seekers, only to find out during the interviewing process that the position was for a financial manager. I've had no experience in anything financial at the time, I didn't even have my GCSE Maths! Yet Job Seekers sent me on that interview, for the sake of ticking a few boxes on a sheet of paper. Never again. 

Anyway, I just wanted to point out the importance of mental health issues and if you think you're experiencing some of your own, seek help. It's far more important than a few numbers in the bank account as this stays with you your entire life. 

Gavin Vella Naturalist

For now, the business is going to run under 'Gavin Vella Naturalist'. While i'll be selling physical products like Photography and Sound Recording, I'll also be offering my services for all sorts of training, from Wildlife ID, Bird/Song ID, Photography, Sound Recording and general wildlife guide tours. 
I've already started training, my first session being for GWT which was an introductory course into Sound Recording. Getting that first one out of the way has really helped build my confidence and the feedback I got was also really helpful. 

Keep an eye on this space, I'll be making my prices available soon and my one off signed prints will be located HERE once I've sorted the stock.

For now I'll leave you with some Winter wonderland pictures from south sebastopo's stretch of the brecon & mon Canal. 

Nightjar Remastered

Nightjar Remastered

Back in the Summer of 2016.. I spent a few weeks returning to a known Nightjar hotspot in order to not just record a churring male Nightjar, but to do so in optimum recording conditions where there was little to no wind noise in the background. For those that have waited in the darkness to hear or see a glimpse of these iconic birds, you'll already know how hard it is to withstand the biting of thousands of midges, while trying to hear what at first sounds like a distant swarm of locusts riding the sound of the wind. That is of course till you get up close and hear just how peculiar the sound of the Nightjar really, especially for a bird. Individual male nightjars can be identified by analysing the rate and length of the pulses in their songs, so if I were to ever get this chance again in the same location, I could analyse my recordings to work out if it's the same male returning to the territory each year. It certainly would make a fascinating study. 

This sound has always baffled me, especially due to the way they use the song, sometimes singing for more than 10 minutes straight without taking a pause. They've learned to breath at the same time as churring, which is pretty incredible in itself. The very frequency of a Nightjars song and the way in which it produces these frequencies allow it to travel great distances, travelling up to 600 meters! (2,000 ft) in good conditions and easily heard at the 200 meter range.

I've shared this recording before, but I've remastered it, taking a lot of the filters off that I used to use. You can now hear it in it's true Raw form with background noise also. If you have good speakers or headphones, I'd recommend using them. 
 

Finish off your plate

Have you ever wondered what happens when an Osprey gets to the end of it's Fish meal?  Well, wait no longer as you can see it for yourself. Tail'n-all! down the hatch :) 

Hope you've all had a great weekend! Don't forget, I'm a Celeb is on at 9pm! (sorry animal lovers, I do love the program despite all the insect/animal abuse that goes on, and it's the only program I watch all year around). 

Osprey Last but of Fish

Forest of Dean

Day's trip at the Dean in some beautiful weather today. Spent most of the day at Cannop Ponds and the water was very busy. I spent a lot of time chatting to the locals too about wildlife. Met a guy called Ray Buckley also who is a local wildlife photographer, I've seen his photographs before online and he's captured some fantastic forest photos of the dear and wild boar. I've personally not seen one for a long time so was glad to be told of a place nearby where I might find some. I stumbled upon a loan pregnant female that was feeding on acorns in quite a busy area. She wasn't at all phased by people as you can see, the image was taken at 300mm and I found it hard to fit her all in half the time as she was too close. While chatting about her to the locals in the car park, I was approached by an angry man who went out of his way to shout at everyone for getting too close and that "wild boar are the worse thing to have ever happened to the forest". While I can understand his frustration and concern about the increasing numbers of wild boar, I didn't appreciate being shouted at from the off, without any reason to say such things, simply the fact that I was holding a camera, he Assumed I'd be getting too close. I suspect his anger is being aimed at photographers because of the few minority of photographers that have been visiting this area, feeding the wild boar in order to get closer shots. Personally I don't agree with feeding them as their tolerance to people will inevitably result in those individuals getting shot. It's certainly a controversial subject and I'm sure a wildlife TV series will be about soon about the ongoing problems that residence are having in the Forest of Dean. I hope you enjoy my photographs from today. 

Boating Lake Diversity

Short trip around the Boating Lake today, was nice to bump into Steve Williams (our head ecologist) doing his regular Gull checks for rings. Steve has had some fantastic results photographing ringed birds with his camera, something that is far from easy considering you have to photograph the ring from many different angles in order to read the whole number. As valuable as these rings are for conservation, they don't half make it hard sometimes to read. 

I was hoping to get some Goosander photographs, and was lucky to get what looked like an entire family or two with two adult males, one juvi male and 5 female type. Light wasn't great today though so didn't process any of those images. Upon talking with Steve we spotted a Water Rail in the middle on the island. A regular winter visitor here but while speaking about the Water Rail, we heard another to our left, and then another to our right! Turns out there are at-least 4 individuals onsite with another calling from the opposite side. This is a particularly large number for such a small pond and it goes to show that with the right management, you build the habitat and they will come. 

Crossbill Forest

For the last couple of days I've been enjoying a flock of Crossbill at Wentwood Forest. Seeing them flock up like this in the open is quite a thing considering they spend most of the year at the tops of conifer trees, deep in the forest for nobody to see. They are specialists at extracting seeds from pine cones, using that unique cross-bill to pry the casings open wide enough to get the seed out with their tongue. I watched them doing this sort of thing also on regular beech seed heads with much the same technique. Every now and again they'd drop down to drink all at the same time, as to keep an eye out for predators at a time where they are particularly vulnerable. I did my best to get as close as possible without disturbing them. Like the recent influx of Hawfinch, these have probably travelled a fair way and now we're in forestry felling season, we can expect to see a few more unexpected visitors further south. 

Crossbill Drinking

I tried my best to get recordings of the Crossbill flock despite getting interference from a nearby telephone mast. Between that and the typical plane noise, cars and drones! yes drones, I really did well to get this recording. It has been filtered to death so apologies about the quality as it's below my usual standard. 

Just as I mentioned about Hawfinch on the move, a sizable flock of 15 + Hawfinch just as the light faded, Couldn't even fit them all in the same frame so was sure there must have been at-least 20 birds. They were about to touch down but changed mind and carried on North. Other notables came in the form of Brambling, Siskin, Redpoll, Kestrel and all the typical species for Wentwood this time of year. 

Hawfinch 9th November.jpg