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Flooding - unpredictable but inevitable
10th December 2015 - 5 comments


When I left University in the early 80’s I was looking for a role in environmental management, a role that focussed on working sympathetically with nature rather than trying to confront it and control it - too much of the thinking to that point had been on trying to bully rivers, the sea or the landscape and to force them to do what we wanted. Inevitably the law of unforeseen consequences come charging over the hill, defences were undermined and failed, erosion and flooding resulted and in real terms we’d simply made the situation worse. Sadly such roles did not exist then in the UK and has anything really changed?

All of this thinking came flooding (sic) back this weekend with the news that large area of North Cumbria in particular had suffered badly. This only 10 years after the last such event in Carlisle and 6 years after the tragic floods in West Cumbria around the Workington area in late 2009.

Inevitably over the past few days everyone’s been blaming everyone else claiming that their own actions cannot possibly be at the root of these problems - but the problems need to be addressed so let’s examine a few issues



Cumbria

The Lake District has a unique topography - effectively it’s a large dome with a number of steep and steep-sided short valleys radiating out from the centre, effectively the spokes on a wheel. Therefore any location around the Lake District is at risk from a rapid rise in river levels as evidenced by the Workington floods and those in the Maryport area this weekend. Carlisle is slightly different in that it is built on the River Eden with its source in the Pennines but is also fed by a number of smaller rivers originating in the north and east of the Lake District - hence is at risk from rainfall in two locations.

Living within the confines of the Lake District of course brings its own problems as seen by the unfortunate village of Glenridding at the foot of a steep valley running off the east slopes of Helvellyn - now flooded twice within the last few days. The flooding in Threlkeld and Keswick are linked as they share much of the same ‘improved’ river channel - it does beg the question ‘how successful was this improvement?’

Rainfall

Despite what some may claim (our previous Environment Secretary unbelievably being one notable denier) the global climate is changing. There is however a major difference between (global) climate and (national) weather and as yet no-one can be absolutely clear what impact the warming global climate will have on the UK weather. One model predicts that changes in the thermohaline circulation will result in the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Drift being significantly reduced and in that case we could see a significant reduction in temperatures in the UK and a move to weather more typical of our Northern latitude. That remains speculative at this stage but it is clear we have seen more extreme and localised weather events, extremes of temperature, extreme winds and extreme rainfall in recent years. There is no reason to suggest that this trend will not continue.

In November 2009, when Workington was hit so badly, rainfall of 316mm over a 24 hour period was recorded at Seathwaite, the figure last weekend recorded at the nearby Honister Pass was 341mm in 24 hours. However the record rainfall at Honister in no way contributed to any of the flooding in the Eden valley, being in a completely separate drainage basin. So Environment Minister, and local MP, Rory Stewart’s statement that ‘this is an extreme and unprecedented event’ while strictly correct does suggest the events were unpredictable and a one-off - this is far from the case and presents neither himself nor his Government in a good light.

Perhaps he should have talked with his boss Liz Truss MP, the current Environment Secretary, before he made such a statement. She now accepts that extreme weather such as we saw was “consistent with the trends we’re seeing in terms of climate change” and that DEFRA would ensure its models were fit for purpose in the light of the events we now increasingly see. One of her more sensible recent statements as long as these models are not solely constructed on the basis of past events and are actively used to determine future policy.

The upland environment

Too much of our uplands are denuded of natural vegetation with plants grazed to within an inch of their lives. As many have pointed out there is little soil up there on which anything else could grow and that is true in many locations - but that doesn't mean to say there never was soil there in the past! The Lake District, other than on the highest tops, was covered in native woodland which served to anchor the soil in place. Sadly that woodland is now long gone as part of the drive towards land ‘improvement’ …. as has the soil!



Upland areas generate heavy rainfall and in the UK that’s a climate-given with the majority of the higher ground being found on the west coast. Heavy rainfall washes the exposed topsoil away, creates gullies, further erodes the landscapes and carries silt away in streams and rivers dropping it into lakes and ultimately the sea. For an illustration of this look no further than any of our estuaries, the silt in the Solway Firth hasn’t always been there, it came from somewhere!

So why does the current farming approach make the problem worse?

  • grazing animals strip vegetation down to ground level, leaving a poor and marginal structure with the plants no longer able to hold the soil together

  • with a thin vegetation and soil cover there is little or no capacity for soaking up and storing heavy rain - in certain areas exposed bedrock makes the problem all too easy to see

  • what little soil there is is trampled and compacted by animals, vehicles and human footfall so heavy rainfall has nowhere to go other than flowing across the surface - ‘overland flow’


All of these taken together mean that the land cannot absorb heavy rainfall and runoff into gullies, streams and rivers is rapid. Once this process starts it’s unstoppable - the less water the ground can absorb the more quickly it runs away, the more it runs away the more it erodes and transports the soil cover away, the less soil cover the less rain it can absorb therefore more is shed into streams etc.

Simply having bushes, trees and a deep layer of grass in a landscape makes a huge difference as their roots both break up and stabilise the soil structure making it easier for rainwater to percolate as well as ‘consuming’ water themselves. Most of us just need to look at our gardens at home to prove this fact - in periods of heavy rain which is squelchier, a lawn or a flower bed?

Now this is not ‘having a pop’ at farmers - I live in a farming community and recognise they have a tough job in the current economic climate but it does feel as though we’re at the point where something has to change.

Water retention

The biggest ‘sponge’ in the UK is the peat bog - today only a small fraction remains in its natural state, the majority having been drained for forestry or agriculture or extracted for use in horticulture. The image below shows the land above Nant-y-Moch reservoir in Mid-Wales, an environment now no use for anything - yes this was once a peat bog but sadly is not unique across the UK.



A number of organisations are now actively looking to change the landscape back to its previous state, ‘rewetting’ through the blocking of ditches and ensuring that it can absorb more water releasing it slowly over time thus mitigating the impacts of severe rainfall.

One such organisation is Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust (MWT) through its Pumlumon Project in Mid-Wales - while this is small-scale it does illustrate an alternative approach and more details can be found here http://www.montwt.co.uk/what-we-do/living-landscapes/pumlumon-project.



River management

I hate that term - it implies we have the power to control rivers, we don’t, they cannot be controlled. Too much emphasis has been on clearing and straightening channels, dredging where deemed necessary and constructing long runs of flood banks where flooding occurs. But all of these conspire to make the problem worse. Water flows quicker as it’s not held back by natural obstacles or meanders, faster flowing water is more difficult to ‘manage’ and therefore has more of an impact when floods inevitably occur. Faster flowing water means more of it can reach a particular point in a given time, so if it has nowhere to go flooding is inevitable and with raised flood banks once they are breached the water is more difficult to remove. It’s also worth remembering that flooding is a natural process and will continue to happen as long as we have water on this planet - that’s why the river creates floodplains!



In a location such as Carlisle the coast at Rockcliffe is only 5 or so miles away so raised sea levels have a damming effect on river flow. Where you have a strong westerly winds and a narrowing estuary such as the Solway Firth, sea levels can be temporarily raised and river water simply has nowhere to go. This is of course before we factor in any sea level rise as a result of increasing global temperatures.

I suspect the natural inclination will be to build higher flood defences - a short-term solution that makes the situation worse, look no further than the flooding on the Somerset Levels last year. Focus continues to be on trying to control this 'wall of water' downstream rather that trying to stop it forming in the first place. This is seriously flawed thinking, continues to waste valuable public resources and simply creates problems for the future.

As I child I remember the floods in Carlisle in the 60’s and 70’s and the construction of the first defences - following the 2005 floods, which cost insurers £272m, new defences were commissioned at a cost of around £38m and these were designed to cope with a 1 in 200 year flood. Well it didn’t take long for these to be found out did it and the cost of the recent flooding is likely to surpass that in 2005 with some estimates suggesting the county-wide cost could exceed £500m. What level of cost does it take before someone says enough is enough and rethinks strategy?

For information the Environment Agency’s strategy for the Eden Valley can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/289422/Eden_Catchment_Flood_Management_Plan.pdf - it makes an entertaining read and in my view is far too narrowly focussed

What Next?

It’s reasonable to argue that no one factor was alone responsible for the flooding in Cumbria, but the ‘perfect storm’ of high rainfall, rapid runoff, fast river flow and the damming effect of high winds at the coast made it inevitable. However rather than blaming external factors or going into full ‘Ostrich mode’ as many commentators have sadly done this week, everyone should realise the simple logic that explains why the floods occurred - they are by nature unpredictable but most certainly not unforeseeable and are wholly inevitable. So what needs to change?

  • Accept that our current strategies are outdated, no longer fit for purpose and will prove increasingly less so

  • Start planning to address the issue holistically - thinking in terms of the hydrology of a complete drainage basin, from the watershed to the point at which the river enters the sea would be a major step forward. DEFRA are ideally positioned to lead on this work but do they have the will or the capability?

  • Local planning authorities should focus more on not simply covering the landscape with tarmac or concrete which do nothing more than produce immediate runoff - indeed they should be legally compelled to stop this happening. Additionally legally enforce a ban on any further development on floodplains - no development should be approved where flooding has ever taken place and add a further ten vertical feet

  • Recognise the key role that ‘rewetting’ our uplands can play and invest in wider scale investigations. Along with this commence the reintroduction of natural vegetation and woodland to many of the upland areas thus turning them back to something that can retain rather than shed water - make this a key responsibility for Local Authorities. In the short term this will inevitably have an impact on the livestock currently using these hills but the benefits must outweigh the short-term costs for which farmers should be compensated

  • Fundamentally change our approach to river management, moving the channels back to a more natural state, Stop clearing channels of all obstructions, stop straightening channels, allow sand banks, vegetation and meanders to develop all with the intention of slowing the water down. As an added benefit this would also be beneficial to our wildlife which as we know is currently struggling


Is any of this actually going to happen? To be honest in our current political system that is highly unlikely as a national policy - however if one catchment was brave enough to try this new approach and illustrate how well it could work it would then become difficult for our self-serving and next election focussed politicians to ignore it but do we really want to be seeing more of this?



**note - the images in this blog were all taken in Mid-Wales
Shetland Sojourn
05th July 2015 - 4 comments
Northern; Windy; Flat; Old Norse; A bloody long way; Wildlife haven; Mythical? All of those things certainly and a whole lot more.

A young lad in the early 70's with a growing interest in birds read about this distant land and in particular an island called Fetlar, hot property at the time because it had the UK's only breeding pair of Snowy Owls. Sadly he can even remember the warden's name, Bobby Tulloch! Interest flared but for some unexplicable reason it took until 2015 for this now not so young early retiree to head to these mythical islands.

So it was in mid-June I pointed the car to Aberdeen for the overnight ferry to Lerwick for a week with Hugh Harrop from Shetland Wildlife - what better way to see the best Shetland can offer than go with someone who knows the islands like the back of his hand? A wise choice as it turned out as a number of the sites, either through access restriction or the time of day we were there, would not have been available otherwise. Having had time to reflect, and look through the images I managed to capture, I strongly recommend Hugh's wide range of tours and you can find more information on the website at Shetland Wildlife - no I am NOT on commission!

Rather than documenting the full week I concentrate on a few star species with images culled from the (eek) around 8,000 I took! This does however remain a lengthy and picture-heavy blog, I hope you enjoy it and manage to get to the end!

THE SEA, ALWAYS THE SEA


Beach at Bay of Scousburgh - South Mainland



Hermaness cliffs looking north to Muckle Flugga Lighthouse




Eshaness Cliffs looking North-east




Sunset from Sumburgh Head




South Mainland sunset from Spiggie looking over Muckle Sound




Grey Seal, Lerwick




Grey Seal, Lerwick


RED-NECKED PHALAROPE

With only 25 or so breeding males this is a rare bird in the UK and Shetland is the place to see them, and this was my target bird for the week. Unusually among birds it is the male that incubate the eggs and raise the young hence the females plumage is much brighter. I saw up to 4 birds and given the presence of at least two males the birds were clearly still establishing territories/pair bonding in mid June - not surprising considering I visited in the coldest spring for 20 years according to Hugh! The Loch of Funzie and the Mires of Funzie is regarded as the best site to see and photograph them.










BLACK GUILLEMOT

Have seen these many times but they tend to be on the water/swimming away at a rate of knots, giving a hint of their red legs and striking white wing patches. Hugh however had access to a site where the non-breeders hauled themselves out onto the rocks and allowed photography at close quarters. Slightly dodgy weather with a strong northerly and heavy showers blowing through but the light was perfect and the birds were particularly confiding - the most tuneful of all the seabirds with a high pitched whistle I'd never heard before








(Northern) GANNET

A common bird in the UK concentrated on a small number of sites, such as Bass Rock, St Kilda and Grassholm, with around 65% of the world population nesting around the UK. A large and impressive bird with striking features and fantastic plumage when you see them up close. Managed to photograph these in two separate and very dfferent locations. Firstly an early morning trip to one of the islands to capture these gathering nest material against the unlit black water under the cliffs using a technique I'd never have considered ... it works, nice one Hugh! Secondly a visit to the cliffs at Hermaness at the northern end of Unst - you can't go much further north in the UK - to get the birds flying past at eye level. Been to a number of gannet sites but none give the photo opportunities offered by these two sites on Shetland - sadly as you can see some of our discarded waste is being used as nest material. We have a lot to answer for.










CORNCRAKE

In all my years interest in birds I'd never seen a Corncrake, only once hearing the distant and very distinctive call on Iona. Interest however was raised a notch or two in the weeks before heading north when reports of a lone calling male found by Hugh began to emerge. The bird would often sing out in the open and quickly become possibly the most viewed and photographed Corncrake in Shetland. Fortunately the situation hadn't changed by the time I got there and we got some stunning close views of this elusive bird - the first image is the best I could have hoped for, then it got better!








GREAT SKUA

The Bonxie, a killing machine, the flying pirate, not in the least bit pretty or remotely likeable but bloody impressive. A thickset bird, deep barrel chest, heavy wings spanning 1.3m or so, hooked beak and an aggressive attitude. The total world population of this bird is less than 50k individuals with around 16k breeding pairs, half of which are on Shetland. It's worth pointing out that the first image was taken with a wide angle lens (@ 38mm) on a full-frame body and is 85% of the resulting image - it was close!











RED-THROATED DIVER

A truly glorious bird with the upturned beak giving it an aloof posture - breeding limited to the North and West of Scotland with Shetland being a stronghold.








OTHER BIRDS & PLANTS

Plenty of other birds around - here's a selection!



Arctic Skua in evening light




Arctic Tern feeding




Common Sandpiper




Cormorant - no idea what the fish is!




Edmonston's Chickweed - the rarest plant in Britain, only grows on Unst




Eider creche




Fulmar flypast




Fulmar nest site




Great Northern Diver




Great Northern Diver




Golden Plover in evening light




Oysterplant - a rare seashore plant - Urafirth




Puffin takeoff




Sanderling with more of our rubbish




Pollen- covered on Sea Pink




Northern White-tailed Bumblebee on Sea Pink




Skylark putting full effort into the song

And finally, perhaps most surprising as I thought I'd messed the shot up, a Storm Petrel returning to its nest in Mousa Broch at 0100

A good weekend
29th May 2014 - 2 comments
Had to be in the South Lakes for a celebratory meal on Saturday evening (at Simon Rogan's place, L'Enclume, in Cartmel - mindblowingly good meal and he continues to raise the culinary bar, well worth a visit!).

Anyhoo, took the opportunity for a longer break with the camera and while the weather was variable at best, it paid dividends! To be honest the weather is hardly ever that bad that you can't take a picture - sunny days are normally the worst for taking wildlife images and not much of that to worry about this weekend, get on with it Wilson and stop moaning.

Nipped into Martin Mere in the temporary heat on the way up to see what was around - surprisingly a few Pink-footed Geese still there, a decent number of distant Avocet on the far pools, a Rabbit paying no attention to a Stoat hunting within 10 feet and a lovely Grey Heron stopped for a breather



And then to the colder, windier and wetter conditions - first off visited a location in the Lake District where Red Squirrel are frequently seen and we had to wait all of 10 minutes before this happened ...



Had hoped to get out to the Farne Islands but an early morning check at Seahouses showed how futile that was - 9 degrees, 15 mph NW wind, big seas and heavy rain forecast, the boats all bedded down for the day, time to think again.

Remembered had come across another site while searching the web so headed the few miles down the coast to Long Nanny Burn, a site managed by the National Trust. Originally set up to monitor the Little Gull colony its now been largely taken over by the larger Arctics with well over 1000 pairs nesting there. The Warden's platform is set in the middle of the dunes with birds no more than 30 feet away and, to my eye anyway, offers better photo opportunities than the nearby Farnes. And the birds don't seem at all interested in dumping their digested breakfast on, or taking chunks out of, your head - so much to commend it and well worth a visit if you happen to be up that way in the breeding season. Oh yeah and it's free! A couple of shots





After the delights of Rogan's eatery headed to Leighton Moss on the way home for a flying visit - had heard they had a good number of Avocet, some with chicks, and knowing the reserve well it seemed likely they were much closer than at Martin Mere. That ladies and gentlemen is a bit of an understatement - calm conditions, decent light and a reflective surface for the birds at times less than 20 yards away, does it get any better than that? Am a bit of a sucker for the monochrome birds and for me the Avocet is a more iconic bird than the Osprey (sorry Cors Dyfi!), so taking these images was very special





And the distant chicks



And a rather lovely Little Egret was enjoying itself fishing



..... before the inevitable series of attacks from the damned BHG's - not sure I'd want to be going too close to that beak on an irate Egret!



Return to Leighton Moss for a full day on the cards in the next few days I think. Now that was a damned good weekend!
Where's winter ... plus other things
21st February 2014 - 4 comments
A bit of a rant on environmental issues in general and Owen Paterson in particular ....... with a few bird images!
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Wildlife Photography Tech Tips
27th January 2014 - 1 comment
Having made many mistakes behind a camera and lost some decent shots because of it, thought I'd braindump some of the lessons I've learned in the hope these may help! These are guidelines not rules - in photography rules are there to be broken!

1) HIDE - for most wildlife photography this is critical (although photographing Waxwing feeding is somewhat different). You can use a purpose built hide such as those you find at nature reserves, a portable hide, a car (I use this regularly) or your house for garden photography - or find somewhere to sit still, put the camera on the tripod and drape it in camouflage netting. Remaining still is critical.

2) SUPPORT - support your camera, reduce camera movement/shake and you will get sharper shots. Use a bean bag or a car window support (such as the Eckla Eagle), a monopod for mobility or ideally a tripod. The tripod should be sturdy - there's a world of difference between a £40 tripod made from what feels like cast-off aluminium foil and one costing £100 or more. Try a simple test - extend a tripod, press down on the centre plate and see how much you can get it to flex. If it moves at all do not buy it! Invest in a good head - for wildlife the gimbal heads such as the Wimberley work best, although at a hell of a price, and the Manfrotto 393 Lens Bracket offers a much cheaper but equally sturdy option.

3) METERING - whichever metering option you go for the camera will always try and second guess you, unless of course you're in full manual mode. Personally for the majority of my work I stick to AV mode with the majority of my images spot-metered at the active focus point and use exposure compensation to get the results I want. Understand how to use exposure compensation and your images will improve significantly

4) HISTOGRAM & ETTR - the histogram is your best friend so learn how to use it and learn how to Expose To The Right (ETTR). By deliberately over-exposing but not blowing highlights (the Histogram will tell you if you are) you allow more photons to hit the sensor. More photons equals more detail and reduces the amount of guessing the camera has to do - dark or under-exposed areas in the image will be riddled with noise so make sure these are in areas that don't matter. Highlights can be easily recovered in post-processing - assuming of course that you are taking RAW images. RAW can be thought of as digital negative you then need to develop in Lightroom, Photoshop etc, JPEG is a lossy, compressed direct to print file where the camera (or more correctly the programmer in the Far East) has made all the decisions on how the image should look.

5) LIGHT - Light is everything, learn your environment, learn when the light will give best results (normally at the start or end of the day when the sun is low) and plan accordingly. Make sure you capture only the light you want by using the lens hood - light hits the lens from all directions so by using the hood (amazes me many photographers don't) you are taking light only from the direction you want. Result - cleaner images

6) COMPOSITION - while it's not always possible, bird photography gives best results when you're at eye level with the bird, when you focus on the eye and it contains a small 'catchlight' making the bird come alive. Think about your background, even a small move of a metre to one side or the other can make a huge difference and think about the composition of the image. One of the oldest guidelines in photography is the rule of thirds - and it's still valid because it works! Give it a go and see the difference it makes

7) CLOTHING - sitting inactive often for long periods can be a chilly activity so (over)dress accordingly. Layers are best with a wicking baselayer, remembering (fingerless) gloves, hat and warm footwear - being cold means your attention will wander and you'll miss the shot.

8) ISO - in the old days ISO400 was a guarantee that you'd be seeing grain in the image. That's not the case now as noise reduction becomes increasingly mature, remaining noise can be dealt with in post-processing, and ISO400 is my starting point - images at ISO3200 are perfectly acceptable so change ISO to make sure you retain a decent shutter speed.

9) BE ALERT- birds in particular are normally on the move doing stuff so be aware of the possibilities this gives. The most compelling shots are action shots, capturing a candid moment in the bird's life - try for these and be prepared to fail. In the digital photography age if you have to bin 95% of the shots you take it costs you nothing.

10) DoF - Depth of Field is simply a measure of how much of the image is sharp. The larger the aperture the smaller the depth of field and for large lenses the DoF can be measured at no more than a couple of inches. Shooting wide-open will give a nicely blurred background, supporting but not distracting from the main subject and will allow you to keep your shutter speed high freezing the movement.

11) BE CREATIVE - use slower shutter speeds to give motion blur and the sense of movement, try something different and see whether it works. Take pictures in a variety of conditions - the weather is very rarely so bad that pictures can't be taken so head out in those conditions. One thing is sure - sitting at home will not get you new images!
Focussing on one Redpoll
26th January 2014 - 0 comments
Just after the New Year I was sitting out in the garden with the camera and noticed one Redpoll had a little silver ring on its right leg. Now I must admit I'm not the biggest fan of ringing small birds - remain to be convinced that the information we gain outweighs the impact on the birds, with concerns having been raised with mist-netting - but when a pre-ringed bird shows it's too good an opportunity to miss.



However it's not that straightforward - the ring is tiny, the digits even more so, and you're wholly dependent on the bird sitting in a position where you can focus on the ring not the bird (I don't find that easy!) and on the ring moving round the bird's leg so all digits are eventually displayed. Needless to say this took a few days and I reckon something around 300 shots - that's the beauty of digital photography, I certainly would not have bothered in the old film days - but eventually all the details were captured. Fortunately this bird also had a notable feature as you can see - it's missing the claw off the middle toe - so an easy cross-check



So the details have been submitted - will post the information we get back
A Day at Slimbridge
26th January 2014 - 5 comments
Fed up with the gloom and slim pickings around my local patch I decided to head off down to Slimbridge for the day - a number of years since I was down there and the recent sightings logs sounded positive.

Ignoring the central 'zoo' I headed for the hides - lovely to see the exotic species on site and much valuable work is done there, but I admit to having no real desire to photograph Flamingo in Gloucestershire! The weather was bright (for the first part of the day anyway) although a gale was blowing through the windows in the Holden Tower overlooking the fields and Severn Estuary.

Sometimes the camera cannot do justice to the spectacle and this was one such occasion - impossible to fit the 3000+ Golden Plover and 6000+ Lapwing into the frame so these images represent only a small portion of the birds on the marsh





Compared to other WWT reserves, such as Martin Mere and Caerlaverock, there are only small numbers of Geese around - a small flock of Barnacle and a single Brent with a good number of White-Fronted







Slimbridge is particularly famous for its Bewicks (note in the most up to date Collins this is now called a Tundra Swan - eh?) and they were showing beautifully





One of the hides in particular gets you not far above water level in one of the flooded fields and this makes a hell of a difference to the shots you can take. Never seen so many Pochard in one place (just look at that eye!) but I particularly like the image of the Pintail below









So to the main event! Many of you will have seen or heard about the programme they run for the breeding and reintroduction of the Crane to the local environment. I didn't expect to see these gorgeous birds at such close quarters - the first fly-past at the Holden Tower being too close for the big lens to fit the full bird into the frame - so was delighted to manage the following shots







A great day out, finished off with a spectacular lightning show in Gloucester on my way home - it will not be as long before I return!
2013 - A Photographic Retrospective
03rd January 2014 - 4 comments
After the seemingly never-ending deluge in 2012, with the severe impact this had on our wildlife, we moved into 2013 hoping for something a bit better. It was certainly different! Having taken, sifted, deleted, sorted and disregarded thousands of images a favourite few are included in this blog post.



Following an early and close encounter with the local Whoopers the snow arrived with a vengeance in Mid-Wales and gave some fantastic photo opportunities





Having spent a number of days trying to get a decent image of a local Green-winged Teal, a period of severe cold pushed all the birds closer to the shore - this image clearly shows the differences between the Green-Winged and Common Teal. But boy was it cold in the hide that day



While we all try to claim that images are planned, and in the majority of cases that is true to a large extent, sometimes you just get lucky. The image below is one such instance, where I was simply trying to get a decent shot of a large group of Redshank at Leighton Moss



Back to Mid-Wales in the early part of March it felt as though spring was well on the way - the birds played ball, with the Willow Tit in particular seeming happy to pose for me in Hafren Forest



And then the weather changed, spring was put on hold and a cold easterly airflow established itself for a number of weeks, the atmosphere was clear and the light perfect so mustn't grumble!







A cooperative Otter while I was waiting for the Pied Flycatcher at Lake Vyrnwy was a particular highlight - seen the Otter there a few times so must make more of a concerted effort this year



More normal service was resumed as the weather heated up, although everything was very much later than normal



Towards the end of the summer the garden was alive with butterflies including a first sighting of a Silver-washed Fritillary.



The Peregrines at Montgomery Castle managed to successfully raise 4 chicks - considering the conditions in which they started earlier in the year a great achievement



The year kicked into a new gear over a period of 5 days in early October with Wheatear, Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis and, best of all, a Great White Egret in Montgomeryshire. Having sat there all day near Welshpool waiting for the Gt White to come closer than 400 yards, a second then flew into the reserve (20% of the UK population on a small lake in Mid-Wales - wow!), spooked the first and they flew within 30 yards. A great moment!





And so to Autumn. As I sit writing this we've had so many days of gloom, heavy wind and downpours it's all too easy to forget that there have been some bright spots over the last 10 weeks or so



A Guillemot in Silloth harbour on 4 November was a pleasant surprise and the numbers of Oystercatcher on the Solway were impressive - image below shows only 10% or so of the flock, sometimes the big lens is a handicap!





The arrival of the Winter Thrush signalled that winter was (supposed to be!) on the way although with the high temperatures in Sweden the numbers of Waxwing in the country are very small. No irruption this year!





And a final image from 2013 - taken on 31 December up on the high ground of the Kerry Ridgeway, a Kestrel braces itself against the westerly gale.



Here's to a productive 2014!