Starting is always the hardest part of any worthwhile task and, after almost twelve months away from the blogosphere, that old adage has never proved more apt. Of course I’ve taken breaks before and managed to find my way again but an additional complication this time around has been my move to a completely new camera system. A long term proponent of the ever versatile bridge camera I’d for a while felt that my photography had plateaued. It seemed that all the landscapes had been taken and where wildlife was concerned limitations caused by weather conditions and distance were increasingly stifling both my enjoyment and publishable content. The logical choice of course was to upgrade to a true DSLR but weight and cost concerns had, until now, stopped me from pulling the trigger.
Step forward then the Olympus E-M1 mk3, or more specifically its new 100-400mm telephoto lens launched during the latter half of last year to rave reviews. Thanks to inspirational talks and images from pro-photographer Andy Rouse I was left in no doubt that this was the system for me and having popped my name on the waiting list settled down to, well, wait. By December I had both the camera and lens in my possession and since then I’ve been out and about as much as possible, trying a wide variety of subjects and settings whilst simultaneously getting to grips with Adobe Lightroom and RAW image processing. Both camera and workflow are still very much a work in progress but it’s high time that I started sharing some of the results.
And where better to begin than the weekend just gone which saw us making a long overdue return to an old favourite, Dinefwr. As if sensing the occasion our arrival was greeted by the resident herd of iconic White Park cattle galloping their way through the meadows towards us. With calves in tow it would have been rude not to spend a little time with these animals. After all, this herd does date back to the year 920!
From there the plan had been to spend a couple of hours down at the pond photographing dragonflies but a stiff breeze made that task more than a little challenging. Swaying vegetation and a big lens are never a good combination. I did though find several other insect subjects including the rather attractive duo below.
A few Meadow Browns were observed flitting amongst the Bracken but our attention was soon drawn to more feathered fare. Both Treecreeper and Nuthatch were ever present with family groups observed throughout the deer park, but it was a Spotted Flycatcher that really got the juices flowing. Remaining frustratingly distant we nevertheless got great views as it lived up to its name, a second individual glimpsed briefly although again never close enough for a photo. The same can’t however be said of a large family group of Redstarts which proved incredibly obliging down at the aforementioned pond. Standing on the board walk I was almost spoiled for choice as youngsters darted in all directions, often alighting on perches mere meters away. Needless to say they had soon attracted a decent sized crowd (at least I assume people were watching the birds and not waiting to see if I’d fall in the water whilst walking backwards) and I’m pretty pleased with the results.
Only once did I see the adult male put in an appearance, presumably happy to leave the kids to it.
Having taken our fill we wondered off into Castle Woods where a hide provides decent views out across Dinefwr Pools and the wider Tywi valley. Being summer waterfowl numbers were pretty much non-existent barring a few Mallard and Gadwall with even the semi-regular Great White Egret having relocated elsewhere. In fact I was just about to call it a day when Emma spotted a raptor flying low over the distant fields. It didn’t take long to confirm the interloper’s identity as a Hobby, a new Welsh tick for us both. Better views were to come as it slowly moved closer and with reduced distance came the realisation that it was hawking for dragonflies, and with a great deal of success at that. At regular intervals another skilled aerial hunter had just a few seconds to recognise its belief at being the local apex predator shattered before being snatched from the air, the Hobby feeding on the wing before moving on to its next victim.
Record shots in the bag all I needed now was a little bit of luck and, as it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long. Flying out of view we initially thought the Hobby had moved on only to have it swoop back in right above the hide, a dragonfly clasped tightly in its talons. For just a few seconds it hung almost stationery in the air, neck extended as prey transferred to beak before once more accelerating away at incredible speeds.
We enjoyed watching the Hobby hunt for at least the next ten minutes, eventually vacating our seats in order to allow others access to the hide. Throughout that time it never again came as close which makes me all the more pleased that, despite fluffing a couple of settings, I was still able to capture images that just wouldn’t have been possible had I been carrying my old camera. A massive vote of confidence in my new setup and hopefully a sign of good things ahead.
We finished off with another Spotted Flycatcher sighting and a brief stop back at the Redstarts who were still happily performing for the crowds. Not a bad way to while away an afternoon it has to be said.