Ebbwvale Festival Park Lake

Following on from a random Wood Duck sighting last month at 14 locks, it came to my attention (thanks to Jeff Chard) that 10 Wood Duck was present at Ebbwvale Festival Park lake. The odds were most certainly in the favour of domestic ducks, likely from a private collection that have either been released or escaped, as these Birds are Native to North America, and despite the minute possibility of one blowing off course during migration, it was unlikely that 10 birds did the same thing. Asking the locals, it turns out they are 100% domestic, as there is a guy locally that bred them who also owns Peacocks… Seems odd to own non-native species of Bird and allow them to fly around Ebbwvale with no consequences.. Someone needs to speak with this person as it is illegal to introduce non-native species into the wild. Either way, theres no denying, they are beautiful Ducks! so why wouldn’t you want to see them? Unless of course you’re a ‘Birder’ who doesn’t like birds?

This is why I love photography, as it forces you to look past whats considered ‘acceptable’ and to simply appreciate the beauty in everything, regardless of its rarity or origin.

One thing I love about the Festive Lake was the variety of species, with Kingfisher, Heron, Goosander, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Sparrowhawk, Redwing, Fieldfare, Water Rail, Bullfinch, Green Woodpecker and many more common species, all of which were fairly used to people. The trees are covered in Moss and Lichens, even the man made wooden benches are covered in Fungi, making it a fabulous spot for Macro photography.

#No New M4!

As distracting (and devastating) as the imminent disaster of Brexit is, there are some other really important things happening right now that need our attention. To save the Gwent Levels and the Wildlife within, we need to fight for it, otherwise the bulldozers WILL move in. Please contact your local AM’s and let them know that tearing up the Gwent Levels for this ridiculous plan to choose the most environmentally damaging route they could have possibly picked, IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!


Enter your details using one of the links below and if you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #NONEWM4 to share your thoughts.

https://action.wildlifetrusts.org/page/30798/action/1?fbclid=IwAR09CdJf0JizzKlDCQKVkEhgsX7F0QohNeVPG3CP59Sw9MYKH_Qf2jENd5A

https://act.friendsoftheearth.uk/act/no-new-m4-dim-m4-newydd?fbclid=IwAR2TEovtY4HbQmNssdFI9x29swazTc7Fwl9-wdbP-yMP5cI4oaUsQFDwbXQ

Water Vole have only been re-introduced in the last couple of years and upon making their comeback to the levels, already their habitat is set to be destroyed. These and many more species that benefit from the Levels, like our first breeding pair of Cranes for our 400 years! Read all about it HERE. It’s not acceptable. Please use one of the links, learn more about it and see how you can help, time is running out.

Water Vole

Non-natives & Order Call

Today I took an hour to investigate reports of a Female Mandarin near the 14 Locks stretch of Canal, pictures online of which looked to actually be a Female Wood Duck. I’m not overly familiar with Wood Duck, till today anyway. After finding the bird, Wood Duck was confirmed with all the right features, with thick white eye-ring, point towards the eye at the base of bill, saturated wing tips, and upturned thin flank stripes. Not only that, the bird seemed to be quite chunky, only slightly smaller than the accompanied Mallards. Both Wood Duck and Mandarin are invasive species and spark a bit of controversy amongst naturalists as they have the potential to unbalance native populations of wildfowl by competing for similar food supplies. Personally, I’m unconvinced on this argument, and see them as a species that fit into their own category, but unlike invasive predators, it’s very difficult to assess the impact of invasive species like this. Mandarin and Wood Duck nest in holes in Trees which rules out any breeding competition with our native Ducks, but it does mean they occupy the same nesting holes as many of our Birds of Prey like Kestrels and Owls, most of which are in serious decline. As with everything in conservation, nothing is straight forward and the area of wildlife control creates even more controversy.

Here is a picture of this very Wood Duck. Likely to be an escapee from a collection rather than a wild bird, but beautiful either way.

Female Wood Duck

A call out to anyone interested in purchasing prints for Christmas. If anybody desires any of my photographs in the last couple of years for yourself or your loved ones, now is the time to get your orders in. If ordered within the next three weeks I can guarantee it will make it in time for Christmas. My most popular prints are listed below but I have many more. I’m also offering personal wildlife sound recording and photography workshops with a special featured sale on Woodland Bird Photography based at Ian Howell’s professional Bird hide setup.

Bird Photography Special

Bird Photography Special

I’m now taking bookings for Bird Photography Sessions featured at Ian Howells Woodland Bird Hide, alongside my usual training. This will be a full days worth, with the chance of photographing an array of Garden Birds species, but also the chance to photograph Birds of Prey like Buzzards and Sparrowhawks with an optional extra to stay after dark for Nocturnal Tawny Owls.

If you’re interested, or know someone that might be interested as a Christmas gift, please get in touch with me and we can arrange a date. Prices for all my training can be found below, also viewed in my store page.

Bird Photography Special @ Ian's Woodland Bird Hide
from 100.00

New to Bird Photography? Just bought a DSLR Camera? Or simply want to develop your skills and take your Bird photos to the next level. Book a session with me now and gain access to Ian’s Woodland Bird Hide where you can practice on an array of woodland bird species from Woodpeckers to Sparrowhawks. A minimum of 300mm focal range is required for this setup but no previous experience required.


In this session we’ll cover all camera settings, from ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Focus Settings and Metering, all of which can make or break a photo if not set up correctly for your subject.

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Sea Air

There’s nothing like a bit of sea air to freshen up the day. The rain almost ruined it for me, with several trips back to the car, ready to pack it in, but I hung in there as I had a mission. I’ve had Turnstone on my photography list for quite some time, not just because they look great, but because they are often quite approachable when feeding. These birds can be found all over the British coastline, and they are becoming quite confiding in areas where their desired habitat comes into contact with regular human activity. England generally has better examples of this, but Barry and Porthcawl are becoming great places to observe this behaviour. They’re starting to feed amongst the Pigeons and Starlings, sometimes really close to people, even feeding between peoples feet as they sit on coastal benches. One thing they do not like though, and that’s Dogs, so timing my arrival early, I hoped to be there before the early Dog Walkers. That plan didn’t work as well as I thought, as by the time I located them feeding, there were lots of people around. I got in the car ready to go home quite a few times but glad I got back out for more, as my last sitting with them, laying on my belly, they came really close - Sometimes too close for the camera to even focus! Not much else going on the sea, besides some very distant ducks that I couldn’t even work out with the scope. Probably Scoter. Plenty of Rock Pipits though.

Before heading home, I thought i’d stop off at Margam Country Park. I’ve only been once before, having been introduced to the site by Mike Warburton. It was getting late in the day so only a few Fallow up on the peak, with most of the Reds tucked up in the lower levels.

Rainy Day at Wentwood Forest

Spent a dark hour at Wentwood today. Plenty of Crossbill, Redwing, Fieldfare and the odd Brambling within fairly large Chaffinch flocks. I usually time my visits to Wentwood for autumn / winter with the intent to find a Great Grey Shrike. No luck today, so my attention went to the forest floor, where I found lots of Deer Signs, Fungi and autumn colours to keep me happy.

Forest Farm

So the time has come, my time at Aden Productions working on a Iolo Williams Tv Series for BBC has come to an end. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope I get more work with them in the future. At-least until I get another Job, my time is my own again, and I what better way to spend it than at Forest Farm Nature Reserve. It really is a wonderful sub-urban nature reserve and as a result, the wildlife there is so used to people. Snipe are regularly feeding out in the open, Goldcrest flitting about the hedgerows and to my surprise, a Male Brambling briefly flew in to join a drinking party alongside the stream. Kingfishers were busy, though I didn’t spend much time with those today. The Snipe really did put on a show, I hope to get them at a better hour and perhaps with some more direct light but still my best shots of Snipe thus far. A Sabre Wasp and Common Carder were the only insects spotted on the wing at Goytre Wharf yesterday. I must admit it was a bit of a shock to see most of the conifer plantation cut down, though the Sabre Wasp was making most of the dead wood to lay her eggs in. I was hoping to see a Wood Wasp, as this is the only site I’ve ever seen them, but I’ll take whatever I can get.

Ivy Bee's

Finally caught up with an autumn and found my own Ivy Bee’s, unintentionally of course. Just met up with a friend at Pontypool Park Gates and thought I’d check the Ivy along the bridge right next to the Esso Garage. Took a while to spot them at first in amongst the wasps and hundreds of Harlequin Ladybirds but there were about 7 Bee’s regularly feeding at the same time nearest the Esso garage. Not easy subjects to get a good photo of really but I did my best. I may return this week for a second crack at it.

Ivy Bee

I’ve been organising photographs this weekend, getting on-top of backups before installing a new operation system on my Mac. Mac 0s Majave is proving to be a must-have upgrade for photographers. The new finger ‘showcase’ viewing mode is particularly useful for previewing a days work of photographs. Mac was always good for photography as you only needed to press spacebar to preview files and photo’s without even opening them. Well, in this new showcase mode you don’t even need to do that, you can simple zoom into the photo there and then, without opening anything. This allows you to find out which images are sharpest much quicker and delete those which aren’t needed, very quickly. In doing this, I came across an image from the Spring. A Garden Warbler, peeking out of the shadows of a dark gorse bush.

Garden Warbler

Whats a Garden without a Garden Spider? Been keeping an eye on this female for a couple weeks. She’s laid quite a few eggs so next year should be good for them if they can survive the winter.

For those that watched Autumnwatch this year, what did you think? Squirrels were a big feature, and I was shocked to see that American Grey’s were actually below their native Red Squirrels in dominancy. Being much bigger animals, I would have thought the Greys would have dominated over the Reds at the bird feeders. I wonder if our native Red Squirrels would be as dominant over the Greys? I guess we’ll never know if the Greys continue to spread disease to them. A trip up North is needed soon, I do miss seeing our Reds.

Grey Squirrel

Mental Health

Today just so happens to be World Mental Health Day, and I’d like to take this opportunity to speak about my own experiences, especially considering I’ve had to take time off work recently as a direct result of my own Mental Health. It’s all very real for me at the moment and I’ve finally got to the stage where I’ve had to ask for help.
 
Firstly, I’ve suffered with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for as long as I can remember. This puts me in a generally low state throughout autumn / winter, and I have to try extremely hard to not fall into a trap, continually setting myself up for things to look forward to, or spending money on things that bring me pleasure in order to keep my mind occupied.

There are lots of things to look forward to in Autumn, and I am trying hard to break this cycle, but this is historical for me (and I’m sure many others), as autumn has always been a time of worry, stress, ill-health, bullying, drama, heart ache, anxiety, money problems… The list is endless  and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense why I am the way I am. Returning to school after a summer of roaming the British countryside, most of the time on my own, was always going to be hard to adjust to. Being forced to be in a room full of people, most of which are bullies, because if you don’t, you’ll fail at life. The system is a mess, with no regard to individuals.

This is where my social anxiety started and as the anxiety grew, I’ve sculptured my entirely life around it, making important life changing decisions as a direct cause of my social anxiety. I lost all my friends, not because we fell out, but because I chose to separate myself from a world I wasn’t happy with. Some deal with this reality positively and face it head on, and I’ve tried that.. I became a musician.. about the only place I was comfortable being in within any social environment, hiding behind a drum kit, watching the night go by and not really being a part of it. Just sitting there in my own world doing what I love, and doing it as best as I could, every single time. This seemed to work at the time but the reality was, it made me worse, and that is where I had my first anxiety attack. The first anxiety attack nearly put me in hospital as literally thought I was going to die, I didn’t know what it was, nor how to deal with it. That day I literally went home to my mother and cried my eyes out.. I hadn’t cried that much at my own grandparents funeral. Still don’t even know what the trigger was, other than trying to be the best I could be, the best way I knew how, and that was to get the speakers sounding perfect, the drums in tune, my hands warmed up, the car parked in a spot that wasn’t too far to carry the gear, all of which were far from perfect. The pressure to please people and myself got too much and something had to give out and the only thing I had left was my brain, which seemed at the time to have disappeared. It’s often called a panic attack, and that’s because the body has a flight or fight response to an experience that you can’t control. It happened again, at another Gig and even though it was bad, I did handle it a little better, because I knew what it was.

It’s good to know about these things, but nothing can prepare you for experiencing it yourself as it’s a silent killer. You aren’t aware its even there before it’s too late and you’re scraping yourself off the floor.

While it is tough for me, I can’t begin to think of how hard it must be for the people closest to me. My Girl friend and my Family know how hard it is to get me at family gatherings, social events, meals, weddings, shows, or just general meet ups. It affects me every day, and it’s hard to even talk about it as it just makes me ten times worse.

There’s no surprise that I’ve ended up with a passion for wildlife photography and nature conservation,. It’s because the outdoors takes me back to a world that is perfect…A world that doesn’t worry about human culture, it just carries on delivering the most memorable experiences of my life, all the while, making me a healthier person, thru sound, smell, touch and visual elements that have inspired the best creative minds in the world. Nature is incredibly powerful.

All I want from life is to be healthy, do right by my family, love my girl friend the best way I can, and share this wonderful world of nature we have on our doorstep with you. To do this, I'm going to need some help, and it starts by making everyone aware that people are suffering from their own Mental Health story, and I do take comfort knowing that I’m not alone. I just wished society would catch up faster, and start seeing us for the fragile minds we are, living each day as it comes.

I could go on but I think I’ll leave it there as I doubt I’ll sleep a wink tonight after this.
I’ll leave you with some photographs I’ve taken in the last couple of months. I haven’t managed to get out much as I’ve been flat out at work researching for a new Tv series for BBC Wales.

If all this is new to you but you feel you might be suffering from something similar, I’m happy to talk about it, but there are lots of support groups and a Doctor can offer various ways to help.

 

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I’ll revisit these photo’s below in a future blog post but here’s a sneak peak at a few of my recent photography highlights.