Saturday, 11 July 2015

This one's a keeper

OK, I have given the D7200 a bit more of a workout and I am getting more impressed with each click. This morning I spent about 20 minutes pointing it at the House Martins flying over Imogen and James's house (I'm cat-sitting for them at the moment) and the results were my best ever photos of House Martins.

Yesterday I took it up on the downs and introduced it to the BigMac, and I'm pleased to say that camera and lens got on pretty well. I've only prepped a few photos from yesterday - ran out of time! If my netbook can cope with the D7200's files I may add to this later.

So, the downs. Early start on a clear sunny morning with light breeze. I knew Marbled Whites were out and these were my main target. Chalkhill Blues are apparently NOT out round here yet, and though I saw a couple of Dark Green Fritillaries racing through at 100mph I managed no photos of them. So the Marbleds were the only 'new' butterflies, but they were so abundant and obliging that it was well worth the couple of hours I spent here.

As you can see, Greater Knapweed was flavour of the month. Most of the Marbleds I saw were feeding, and a few were likely egg-laying in the grass. They were not out-of-the-box fresh but still mostly looking very good.

There were plenty of Ringlets about, many looking quite worn. I saw one pair in cop but couldn't get very close.

Meadow Browns were also much in evidence, especially down the path on the other side of the fence at the bottom of the hill.

This path also produced a Comma and several Gatekeepers (all males) and some faded Large Skippers.

Other butterflies seen were good numbers of 'Smessex skippers', a single Small Heath, a couple of Large Whites and (on the roadside path before you reach the reserve), one Small Tortie and one Painted Lady.

I did point the camera at some non-butterflies too. I can't put a name to the crazy green spider or the hoverfly yet, but the dragon is my first 2015 Common Darter and a nice surprise, well away from any water.

I met Phil Sharp (of Sharp by Nature fame) as I was starting to head back. He'd just arrived - sensible chap to leave it a bit later! We passed the time of day for a little while and then went our separate ways - he, I was to find later, managed to track down some slightly more obliging DGFs, on the part of the reserve over the hilltop (which I've yet to visit).

I decided on the train back to make the most of the sunshine and go on to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. A bit of a foolish idea really as I'm STILL suffering from Saturday, but actually I spent most of my time there standing (or sitting) still, trying to photograph a fantastic male Brown Hawker at Long Lake.

The hawker was sharing his patch with a male Emperor, occasionally tussling with him. Both dragons were in territorial mode, ceaselessly patrolling the water and waiting for a female. My attempts to get the autofocus to lock onto the hawker were total failures - the BigMac is not exactly quick to focus, and I hadn't brought the 300mm f4. After watching for a while I realised that the hawker was often flying into the inlet where I was waiting, and I decided to try manual focus, following the brown blur as it got closer, then firing shots off as it moved into focal range.

This frustrating exercise mostly went like this - track approaching dragon, fire five to seven shots, review them, delete them all, repeat. I carried on for something like an hour and a half, by which time I thought I'd managed at least some OK pics.

I have not had time to check all the pics on my big screen but these two seem to be the best. I am pretty chuffed with myself and with my camera. One of the lovely things photography does is show you moments that your own eyes never could, and to see this gorgeous dragon well lit and in full flight is a bit of a treat.

Another treat (though not photographed because it was all too fast) was to witness what happened when a female Brown Hawker showed up. She knew that he was there and visited for one obvious reason. As soon as she appeared he flew at her and 'linked up', and the two fell together towards the water in a frantic clatter of wings - the engagement lasted three seconds at most. She then flew off - though on one occasion actually paused to oviposit a couple of times in the water right at my feet. Being in manual mode I couldn't adjust in time to photograph her (she didn't hang about). One thing I did catch (albeit blurrily) was the male refilling his sperm stores after a couple of these encounters - he did this in flight and didn't slow down at all as he curved his abdomen tip under himself to pass sperm from primary to secondary genitalia. I did get pics of a female Emperor ovipositing - typically for Emperors she took her time, ignoring the mobbing damselflies all around her.

I also saw lots of damsels including Red-eyed and Banded Demoiselle, and other dragons included a Ruddy Darter and a Black-tailed Skimmer. The feeders by Grebe hide were busy with pristine young Blue and Great Tits and their half-bald scruffbag parents. Photos of some of these may follow later if I get time. I saw a Grey Wagtail by West Lake, and a Sparrowhawk circling over Long Lake. Oh, and two Kingfishers went past while I was photographing the Brown Hawker. It's a measure of how hooked I was on the dragon that all I thought was, 'Kingfisher. Meh.'


Phil said...

Hi Marianne. Nice to bump into you up on the downs on Friday. After you left for Sevenoaks I found my way "over the top" where the DGF's were somewhat more obliging, though still not sitting ducks in terms of photo's. Did get one or two though and will try to post up soon....
Glad the camera is living up to your expectations, most impressed with the Brown Hawker in flights. Meh! to a Kingfisher? How very dare you! :-)

Warren Baker said...

Very well done on those Brown hawker flight shots Marianne, I still await one to come near enough, or to settle! I did get a nice surprise Golden Ringed Dragonfly on my patch this morning though, which sat nicely for photo's ;-)

Enjoy the dragon/Butterfly season Marianne ;-)

Marianne said...

Oh, Phil, can't believe I forgot to say I bumped into you! I'll amend the post tomorrow. Glad you caught up with the DGFs - and Warren, what a fantastic find on your patch! It's such a great time of year :)

TonyJ said...

Well done on the Brown Hawker in flight. I've tried and nearly fallen over in the process. Your technique was obviously better than mine.