Sunday, June 28, 2009

Walking the Meridian at Greenwich Park

Grey Squirrel

My objective today was the deer at Greenwich park, unfortunately, I got distracted by another critter: the grey squirrel. I'd spotted one a fair distance off in a flower garden - no dogs allowed. When I got closer I realized that there were a fair amount of them scampering around seemingly eating the grass, and I caught at least one feeding off a flower. Another source of food, was peanuts brought in by visitors.

This fellow above seems to have some kind of markings around his ankles, I wonder what they are.

As luck would have it, I was near a tree when this fellow was running up and down, and I managed to get *1* shot that was reasonably sharp. 300/4 + TC14E + shade == bad bad bad.

A unique feature - a hind paw that swivels 180 degrees, allows it climb up and down tress headfirst with reckless abandon.

A closeup shot of the tail shows the fairly slender tail, with the fine hairs that give it the characteristic bushy tail.

Even though I was prone on the ground, these guys are even lower. A camera with live view may help. I wonder how focus speeds are like.

One of my favourite shots. Though perhaps may work better if I had a 400mm lens :P The teleconverter never left my lens till I got home.

They are very used to people feeding them, and many were scampering around me, hoping for food. Didn't think to bring food for them though :-/

Oh, deer me, I forgot about the deer... the deer were under heavy shade, so I just observed them with my binos for a bit, then left to explore the rest of the park.

Wasn't too hungry during lunch, so went into the rose gardens for a bit of macro.

I think its a carnation. Maybe.


Oh, inside the park contains the Royal Observatory, where there is a metal strip on the ground indicating the meridian line. All good and fun, no pics though.

Photoshoot @ the Bird Of Prey Center

(Southern?) White Faced Owl

Tawny Owl

The Bird Of Prey Center is located a good hour and a half away from London, the first hour by rail, and the next half by cab. The annoying amount of travel ends in a wonderful day of shooting with wildlife up close. The first half of the day was spent shooting static wildlife with relatively tame birds put in seemingly natural conditions (on a tree stump, inside a tree stump, on a barn etc). It's quite a change in mindset when you can use a 70mm instead of a 300mm lens :)

That said, nothing beats the feel of the dof (or lack of) with a 300mm/4 + a 1.4x teleconverter.

Barn Owl, 300mm/4 + TC14EII

Tawny Owl, 70-200VR

It was good times, though I wished there were an Eagle Owl available for shooting up close :)

The rest of the day was spent shooting various other trained birds flown by a falconer. This was the highlight of the day, to get some nice bird in flight shots.

Tawny owl in flight.

Having tried BIF long ways back, I knew that shooting head on, at least with my lenses and camera, would be an utter waste of time. In addition, the background for the head on shots wasn't too appealing. I went mainly for the panning shots that would be easier to get keepers.

Buzzard in flight

Optimally, it would be best to get as low as possible to get shots that are eye to eye with the bird. I was doing my best on my knees. Trying a few shots from a prone position was very difficult to pan the camera, so I went back to kneeling.

Golden Eagle landing

The golden eagle being flown was probably the easiest of the bunch to shoot; it seemed to enjoy floating with the winds, so there were occasions it was possible to actually compose the shot. Still, it was recommended that we shoot at 1/1500, and I had no choice but to increase my iso up to 1600!!! Thankfully the D200 does reasonably well at such high iso in broad daylight. Noise is definitely present, but a noisy shot is much better than a blurry one.

Halfway through the bif session, we stopped to watch the african birds display, had a bunch of birds like vultures, a secretary bird and horn bills grace us with their presence.

Secretary Bird - beautiful!

At the end of the day, I was worn out and happy. Another place to re-visit :)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Paradise Wildlife Park

Another locale found about an hour away from London by rail, Paradise Wildlife Park boasts a large assortment of rare cats like Snow Leopards and White Lions, and is active in the conservation of such threatened species. My main pull to Paradise, is of course the wolves :)

One thing I enjoy about the park is the many viewing platforms available. These afford a great view from above, without the evils of glass refracting the precious light.

Snow Leopard.... majestic...

The snow leopard though had the incoming light so badly refracted. Pixel peeping this shot is very sad; a combination of low light and firing though glass at an angle. I think the pair at the park just had a kitten, which is good considering their sad state of affairs out in the wild.


There were the usual colored lions, as well as white lions in the park, something I've never seen before. The above shot is that of the usual variety, and both of them were quite active in er... increasing the size of the pride. The white lion was sleeping the entire day I was there. All I could see was his butt. Boring... This shot looks good in 8x12, though I have some reservations about the B&W toning. Once I get the toning right, I may try to go for a canvas print.

Eagle Owl

Later in the day, there was a bird display, where many birds such as barn owls, eagle owls, macaws are brought out for flying and display. Again, many of these birds seem to be rescued or rehabilitated. I have a particular place in my heart for the Eagle Owls.

Cotton Top Tamarin

As with the London Zoo, there is an area where tons of tamarins run around. No direct interaction with the visitors though, thought they have a tunnel linking the outdoor enclosure to the indoor enclosure. The cotton top was particularly difficult to get the exposure down, never mind they move *fast*.

A pretty good place for a fun day out for the family :)

Shepreth Wildlife Park

Shepreth Wildlife Park is located about an hour from London, just several stops from Cambridge. A welcome location for the public transport-locked traveller, the park itself is situated very near the railway station, and no more than 5 minutes of hoofing will bring you to the front gates. The park is fair sized, but the first thing you'd notice when you step in is the amount of Prarie Dogs digging up a storm in the courtyard.

I mean, seriously :) I wish I had asked them about it before I left, as there does not seem to have an info email of sorts on their website.

It is also interesting to note how localised the area the furballs are digging up, so I'm guessing the park has in place some kind of containment strategy.

Shepreth itself not only does conservation work (with tigers, otters, lemurs, water voles etc), they also provide a sort of a shelter for injured animals.

This fox for example, was injured in a car accident, and is being taken care of.

Oh there are a pair of wolves there, glee! My first wolf encounter in Britain.

I think I had great fun at the park. Just a note of warning for flash users, the fencing used there is highly reflective, and many of my shots were consigned to the trash bin - I really, really should use this thing called an LCD on the back of the camera to review shots.

I'll leave you with a series of images :)






Seeing red (orange) at the British Wildlife Center

This weekend takes me a little further out from London, all the way to Surrey. It's also my first time on the London Railway, and probably my 2nd time on a real train. The train was supposed to stop at Lingfield in Surrey, but as luck would have it, I was up late the night before, and feel asleep on the train, and missed my stop, and only woke up at the terminus :( Thankfully, the terminus is only one stop away from Lingfield, so I just enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate while I waited the half hour for the train to make the return journey.

Now unlike Richmond park, where I already knew there was a bus right up to the gates, the British Wildlife Center does not have public buses that take you right up to the gates. For people without driving licences like me, the only way there is to catch a cab. As luck would have it, there was one waiting at Lingfield when I exited the train station. (As I would learn later, it was pure luck that I had a cab waiting - in general one needs to call for a cab in advance when visiting these locales)

Ten minutes later, I was smack dab in the middle of the wilderness, at the gates of the British Wildlife Center.

As the name might suggest, this center specializes in conservation for several species native to Great Britain. These include critters like Otters, Red Squirrels and Water Voles, to name a few.

Must come back in winter to see if I catch them with their ear tufts

My usual subject as usual, was wolves. Unfortunately, the wildlife center lacks wolves so the next nearest relative I could find, was the humble fox.

There was also a very young rescued fox named Luna. I think she made my day. Utter furball of energy and cuteness.

The otters were quite active to the delight of the visitors and fellow photographers (I counted so many white lenses lol), especially at mealtime when they had fish. From the scent, it's something I won't mind on a nice piece of toast, with cream cheese =)

European Otter

One thing I did not realize till much later in the day was that these are European Otters, and they are much larger compared to the Asian Short Clawed otter I've seen in previous places. I original thought that because these were relatively older specimens, that they were that big! I was wrong.

Other fascinating critters include the minuscule water voles.

They had a whole area filled with tunnels, a water area and platforms for food. (You know, at times like this I wish I had a wide angle shot of what I'm describing...)

Badgers of course.

The area they were in seemed pretty big, and includes another indoor section.

Another section of the BWC was still under construction, a copse designed for the Red Squirrels. Right now it's being inhabited by a few Muntjac deer and a rabbit (Well I only saw one :P).

I'm too cheap for photoshop. And too lazy for gimp.

This only covers a really small bit of the park; there is a huge outdoor area dedicated to deer, as well as an entire wetland reserve. There is also an area where some birds of prey are kept. Love the eagle owl. Inside the main facilities, is a whole indoor area where you can see a hedgehog during feeding time, as well as field mice, black and brown mice, and weasels. Light levels there are pretty low, and I wish I had an shorter stablized lens for indoor use.

Will definitely want to visit again, but there are so many other wildlife places abound!

Day out at the London Zoo

Golden Lion Tamarins

The London Zoo is located just at the northern edge of Regent Park, not too far a walk from central London. I remember that day being particularly dreary, and there was a very light drizzle. Hmm. Zoo or bed? Tough call. I decided to give it a go, and headed out kitted out with my wet weather gear.

Half way through Regent's park, it actually started to pour. Thankfully, there was a place called The Honest Sausage just off the path, and ducked in for some bangers and mash with a nice cuppa tea. By the time I had finished off my little snack, the rain had stopped, and the clouds were clearing. Could it be the winds of fate are turning?


Heading down the path, I encountered my first Grey Squirrel. OMG. Now, when I'm traveling to my destination I only have my D200 + 55mm 2.8 AIS bolted on, everything else is in my backpack. Locating a nearby bench, I strapped on my Think Tank pro speed belt + 300mm/4 attached with the Skin 75 pop-down. Proceeded to attach flash. And the flash extender. And hook the rig up onto the monopod when....

Some guy was letting his dog run loose without a leash, and said dog went straight at the grey squirrel. Which, obviously turned tail and bolted into the bushes. Damn. Oh well.... I finished strapping all the crap on myself and headed on.

Once in the zoo, the first order of the day is to locate wolves. Which, there aren't, as far as I know. So, next better choice, the African Wild Dogs!

African Wild Dog

When I got to the enclosure though, they were a) Sleeping b) In shade c) through a glass viewpoint. Sigh. Moving on, I went over to the open air aviary. Light levels were pretty low, but I still managed to pull of some wildlife stills, such as this Mandarin Duck:

Not the sharpest picture ever, but at 1/50th of a second with a 450mm lens, I think lens support is worth its weight in gold. I think I put out a pretty long burst, and only one came back usable. I can dream of a gimbal all I want but there is not way I am going to transport that big pile of metal and carbon fiber on the tube.

Turning around to figure out how to shoot the Sacred Ibises, I noticed movement on the enclosure opposite - the african wild dogs were moving! I hesitated. Should I go now, and miss out on the Ibises or run over and hope the dogs were still running about? Birds can wait.

I managed to get lots of shots, though I forgot to check my exposure properly, and most of the shots were motioned blurred thanks to the longish shutter. In addition, most of them were of the dogs running up and down a path. The auto focus was mostly unable to keep up with the critters moving towards the camera. Sigh.

Ok I think this post is getting a bit long :P I'll finish up quickly, being the Zoo is really huge and I've only blogged about 1 critter so far :)

Pygmy Marmoset

The primate conservation area was a blast to visit. Its of course enclosed, but inside, the animals are left to run wild. I had a very close call with a Trumpeter attempting to eat my jacket (everyone's jacket actually). Very amusing. The pygmy marmoset caught my attention the most though. I think it's about the same size as my flash, it can probably fit in my tea cup. Due to being indoors, I had no choice but to shoot at iso800, and I was quite concerned because I'm dealing with fine fur that is not filling the frame totally. To be honest, when I was pixel peeping I was quite sad and wish I had a D700 or something.

But the 8x12 prints were great - in terms of clarity and sharpness anyways. I still need to find a place that works with people battling with color calibration. I'm certain without the monopod this would be really tough to pull off - there were rails of course, but that limits the framing lots.

Forgot the name :(

Out of the enclosure, the next event was the Otter's lunch time! I was positioned quite badly, but the kind visitors made way for me. Having a mid-sized lens helps I think :P


During the course of the day, there were the usual critters to see, like Lions and Tigers. The furballs were sleeping as expected, and behind glass, so i didn't both to take shots, just observed for a bit.

Ground Hogs

One thing I noticed is that at times I really need to stop the lens down. The above picture above of the ground hog does not work at all at 8x12 - being there is so little for the eye to see. I think stopping down at least 2 stops may give enough detail for the eye to follow.


Similarly, I think the above Alpaca portrait may work better with the lens stopped down further to get the entire face in focus.


The Aardvarks are nocturnal, so the most you can see is them dozing off. Kids seem to really enjoy the area as there are many tunnels to crawl into that lead into a plastic bubble for a really close up encounter with the sleeping Aardvarks. During feeding time, only the female woke up to feed. I was in a really bad position again, and no one was giving way to The Guy With The 300mm F4 AF-S On A Monopod. Thankfully even with my bad position the kind lady took up a path and I managed to fire of a sequence, only one (above) was nicely framed. Whew. And she went back to nap. Gah.