Friday, 31 July 2009

Guest Blog Part 2

So after the first exciting week, it was time to get busy and finish what I’d started. The week went something like this…




Logging and filming!


We set our filming date for Thursday due to the forecast. Unsurprisingly the met office got it wrong and our first trip out was aborted as soon as we got onto the road and saw the leaden grey skies and shower of rain. It was however temporarily salvaged with a Thai red curry… But by 3.30pm I was sent out to see what they sky looked like and by 4 we were back in the car, laden with camera and tripod. The destination was Perivale Woods, the target species was Essex Skipper and the shot we wanted was a macro of the smudgy black tip to the antenna, separating this species from the ridiculously similar but orange tipped antenna of Small Skipper; a species of which there is plenty of footage in the BirdGuides archive. I know- I’ve logged it.

Perivale Woods was a surprise to me, I thought all remotely interesting places in London had been bulldozed, concreted over and turned into Tesco’s or instead made into safe community parks with no wild fringes and nice safety fences. But instead this site survives under the Selbourne Society, a fitting tribute to Gilbert White, with a moth list of 600.

We were to have less luck however, as an hours worth of tramping around a lovely meadow turned up only Small Copper, Small Skipper and lots of small Crickets. If it was small it had it… So we filmed Small Skipper anyway. After Max had secured the macro shot of the antennae, just in case, I was let loose with the camera. I expected it to be easy. I was wrong. Firstly the viewfinder is black and white and off centre. Remember looking through an angled scope for the first time? Its like that but in black and white and because its macro, the resulting depth of field is razor thin, so if its out of focus its exceedingly tricky to find anything again, let alone what you wanted to film. And if what you wanted to film comes with wings, is very small and flighty…
Nevertheless I managed to film a short clip of the same skipper in the same pose as Max had.
Here’s what Max got…

…and what I got…

…practice required I think.

Anyway I must now leave for two weeks holiday spent hoping the Pacific Golden Plover at Breydon stays, so my next post should be a behind the scenes tale of the birdfair...

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

It's hard being an intern

You get given all the worst jobs...We thought Steve's blogpost needed a photo for illustration.

Guest Blogging

Hello, I’m Stephen Rutt, 17 year-old intern, tea-maker, logger and now guest-blogger with BirdGuides. Since Monday I’ve been in their London office helping out Max, Fiona and John with their various projects, which contrary to the popular belief of my birding friends is more then just being another news service.

Instead since I arrived here late Monday morning I was launched straight into the proof reading of Lee G R Evans updated ‘The Ultimate Site Guide to Scarcer British Birds’. If there is such a thing as a job from heaven then this is up there, with… warden of Cley? After all you can never read too many bird books. My dad owned the old version of this book and as a keen beginner I found it inspiring and gripping, birds that seemed at the time to be near mythical blockers written about in a confident and easy to read style, seemingly guaranteeing success. 3 years later, those blockers are much reduced but I still find it an interesting resource. This update retains Lee’s easy-to-read writing style but totally refreshed with modern ‘gen’ and liberally punctuated with Ray Scally’s jazzy vignettes, with the Hobby and the Long-tailed Skua particularly special. I wasn’t able to find many mistakes and found it an interesting and at times controversial read for the rest of Monday.

On Tuesday, as compensation for the 50 minute rain soaked, bendy bus commute from hell, I was allowed to have a brief play around with another new product, The Guide to the Breeding Birds of the Western Palaearctic. In essence it’s BWPi dedicated to nests, nestlings, fledglings, eggs and habitats, and just like BWPi its fascinating in its treatment of the subject, ranging from species I’d never heard of such as the stunning Amethyst Starling, to some nice surprises like an adult male attending a recently fledged Guldenstadt’s Redstart and chicks of the near mythical Dupont’s Lark. The amount of work that’s gone into this product is frankly staggering, stemming from many years work in the field to collect such a vast wealth of information and photographs. My work over Tuesday and Wednesday was correcting captioning errors and exporting PDF’s of the BWPi species accounts to be backed up, a task so fun the Mac crashed with excitement. And Mac’s never crash…

Wednesday also saw the arrival of the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater in Kent, which to my slight disappointment didn’t spark a work twitch, but did provide more pictures to bulk out the rather sparse looking review of the week.

Thursdays task however came as a bit of a surprise. I was fully gearing up to start using CatDV pro to start making inroads into a small mountain of unlogged footage when Fiona gave me new task, to edit together a series of 8 butterflies for use on GMTV! Editing, for those uninitiated in the media dark arts is a lot harder then you think it is. You have to balance timing of shots with the quality of the action and the brief of what your meant to be editing. In this case it was 10-second clips of butterflies “not doing much on pretty plants.” No problems then with a stunning Small Tortoiseshell, a macro Holly Blue where you can count its hairs and an ultra-crisp blood red and burnt black Red Admiral. Slight problem with the distant Large White perched on a leaf. Never mind, for some reason I find editing fun and it was great to play around with proper footage, not the slightly shaky stuff I film on tiny handicams for Media Studies and the results were certainly stunning. With the rest of Thursday spent compiling an album of “ornithologically astute” pictures in the gallery (really hard to do, if you have any suggestions to include, please leave a comment) and selecting pictures to be used as thumbnails for the cover of the Breeding Birds product.

For the last day of the working week I was taught how to use CatDV pro to log footage. Basically this involved importing big files of HD video into the software, separating them out into clips of individual species/action and then entering in the metadata (time, tape, location etc.) This was surprisingly fun as I had to view an awful lot of stunning footage, from Green Sandpipers to an ultra macro Marsh Fritillary, via nesting Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. It also is involving learning Bees, Dragon and Damselflies and Moths, whilst brushing up on my occasionally very rusty Butterfly skills, all of which may come in handy for next week when I go out filming.

With that over for another day it was time to head back up to my home in Suffolk for a weekend of dipping. I’ll be back next week…

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Yet more green(ish) leps

Target species for filming this week have been purple and green. We dipped one, had an unexpected success with another and then filmed something entirely ASTONISHING with the third. And to continue with my colourful musings we filmed something scarlet by accident.

Ok - no prizes for guessing that Target 1 was Purple Emperor. Sadly the weather wasn't sufficiently blazingly hot and we dipped. BUT, whilst lurking around piles of fox poo in Bentley Wood (the approved PE technique) this wee gem appeared:A female Purple Hairstreak. This is our only footage of female, as they don't really do accessible - generally hiding at the tops of trees. The males are more colourful, being purple all over their uppersides. The weather wasn't really playing ball - but a trot through the woods produced this complete stunner!
Cooo! A Silver-washed Fritillary of the form valesina. Lovely thing. She (they only come in female) behaved impeccably, had a bask and a nectar and was filmed from all sides. Marvellous.

Even better - she was courted by a male, and we managed to film the amazing corkscrew courtship flight. The female does a straight-line along a glade or ride, and the male waltzes around her in a cork-screw pattern. Sometimes several males at once do this, and it's quite spectacular. The footage is jaw-dropping - and we're pretty sure it's the first time it's been filmed with a valesina. Here's a "normal" Silver-washed Frit for comparison:
Seemingly valesinas will fly in lower temperatures and on duller days. Anyway - back to my colour theme, I bring you a Scarlet Tiger:

Friday, 3 July 2009

Nestcam news

Oh dear, oh dear. Our Pied Wags have now been sitting for over 25 days. I think that means that the eggs are infertile. We're very concerned about how long the female is going to go on incubating. She's completely devoted, but it can't be doing her any good. The pigeons have turned over an entirely new leaf and are now brooding impeccably. Perhaps we'll get a squab. I've edited together some of the webcam footage for your delectation. For some reason Blogger seems to speed up my video. Enjoy!