Marsh Harriers in Flight

Marsh Harriers In Flight (or the way to madness)

In May of this year, we decided to visit the Norfolk Broads.  Our first day was rather cool and overcast and we visited Ranworth Broad which is run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  There wasn’t much to see although there were Grebes by the visitor centre.


The second day was much brighter and we headed for the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen.  Here there was a lot of activity – ducks, geese, herons, grebes, damselflies and swans were very much in evidence. The reed beds there stretch over a large part of the reserve and we could see Marsh Harriers and Hobbies hunting and displaying in the distance.  They were fairly far away but I hoped that they might come close enough to photograph.

We continued to walk around the reserve and stopped to photograph some damselflies and then a family of swans.  Then, right in front of me, a marsh harrier came up from the reeds clutching its prey.  I managed to get the exposure and the aperture changed and snapped away.  I could see the focus point locking on to the bird and managed to get several shots which looked good through the eyepiece. However, when I checked them in the back of the camera, I could see they were not sharp.  In my rush to get the shots, I had forgotten to check the shutter speed and at 1/500th it was nowhere near fast enough to catch a bird in flight.  I was so disappointed.  We continued our walk and did manage to photograph more marsh harriers, but they were a good distance away and I had my lens at 600 which is the extent of its range and still had to zoom in on processing.  They were never going to be very sharp.  However, it was a good day and we did see lots.

The next day we visited Horsey Windpump.  We noticed wildlife boat trips so decided to go on one.  After a debate as to which lenses to put on our cameras, we both decided that as the boat would be reasonably full the big lenses might be awkward to use.  I took my 18-200 Nikon lens.  Of course, that was a big mistake.  The first thing we saw was a pair of avocets flying in front of the boat, followed by a flight of 6 cranes, a hobby and then marsh harriers that actually flew right over the boat.  I did get shots of them but too small in the frame.  However, my technique was better, and they were sharp and well-exposed.

The day after that, we visited Hickling Broad which again is the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  Right lenses this time but no marsh harriers near enough to catch.  Plenty of other things to see though.

Still brooding on making a mess of the first attempt at Strumpshaw, I suggested revisiting later in the week.  Another lovely day with plenty to see but still no luck.  We decided to walk round to the tower hide to see what was going on there.  Again, marsh harriers were hunting in the distance.  Then other people in the hide got very excited (and noisy) as they could see a pair of marsh harriers flying low over the nearby reed bed.  They were trying to drive a pair of cranes from their nest.  After each pass, the cranes’ heads would come up and then down again.  Also at the same time, the Harriers spooked a bittern which flew across.  I managed to get some photographs of the harriers in the distance.

It was getting late, and we were about to leave when a Marsh Harrier came out of nowhere and flew reasonably close to the hide.  Luckily, I still had my camera up at the window and I managed to get a couple of shots before it soared away.  They looked sharp and reasonable in the back of the camera and so they actually proved to be when I processed them.  However, when I did start processing them, I realised there was a problem.  I had accidentally managed to move my white balance on the camera to the tungsten setting and 20 or so images had a colour cast.  However, as I always shoot in RAW, I was able to correct that easily in Lightroom.  Here is one of the images I took.  The aperture was set at 6.3; exposure compensation at 1/3; focal length 500 and finally, shutter speed 1/2500.


Someone once told me that wildlife photography was relatively easy and that wildlife photographers had only to sit in hides to get their images.  Sometimes it does work like that but in this case, it took me 12 hours over 4 days before I got the shot I wanted.

Christine Swalwell

An Hour by the Pond

It’s common knowledge that the best way to attract wildlife to your garden is to add some water. Our pond is only a few years old but is already a thriving ecosystem with lots of plants, newts, the occasional frog and lots of insects.

We have had both Large Red and Azure damselflies mating and laying this week. Nothing is more enjoyable for a wildlife photographer than spending some time observing and photographing nature as it unfolds, especially from the comfort of your own garden with refreshments readily at hand!

The Large Reds are a common and widespread species. When I spotted a pair mating in the typical heart-shaped pose I rushed inside for my camera. They spent some time in this position then, still in tandem, the female began laying in submerged vegetation around the pond. With full sun the light was a bit harsh but nothing to be done about that. Ponds are by their nature quite messy so it was a case of hoping they would settle in a relatively ‘clean’ area. When using a telephoto lens

depth of field is quite narrow so it was impossible to get both male and female in focus, except for a side-on view. I had a few goes with in-camera focus stacking, but with a slight breeze, this often ended up with 2-headed-insects. Different, but not quite what I had hoped for.

There was a male azure hanging around earlier in the week. They can be hard to tell apart from the Common Blue species, you really need to get a good view through binoculars. This was the first sighting of a female (more easily distinguished as she is a greeny colour) and she seemed to be laying. A lot more skittish than the Large Red so much more difficult to get the lens on her. I only managed a few shots before she went on her way.

Hoping to get some larger dragonflies later in the summer. We had a southern hawker last year (they are slowly extending their distribution northwards) so fingers crossed.

Alison Lomax

Camera Club Summer Outing to St.Abbs

June is a significant month marked by several important dates. One of these is the summer solstice, when the sun reaches its highest declination, resulting in the longest day of the year. Additionally, we must not forget the anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6th and think about the sacrifices made by others so we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. However, for the Gala Camera Club, June signifies our much-anticipated summer outing. This year, we chose to explore the picturesque St. Abbs and its environs. (Twinned with New Asgard)


Carpooling, we commenced our journey and assembled at the Nature Reserve around 11:00 a.m. Upon arrival, participants were presented with two options. Some members had opted for a boat ride to capture images of the seabirds near St. Abbs Head, while others decided to explore the reserve and the nearby town. Originally scheduled for 16:00, the boat ride was rescheduled to 14:00, and then we were offered the opportunity to join right away. Excitedly, seafarers and landlubbers headed to the harbour to witness the departure of the bird photographers.

With the boat group safely aboard, they set sail on the high seas. Meanwhile, those who remained on land chose to amble around the harbour or take a leisurely walk towards Coldingham. The weather was ideal, neither too hot nor too breezy. Although the sky could have benefitted from a touch more cloud structure for enhanced landscape photography, there were ample other captivating subjects to capture in St. Abbs.

During the day, we made stops at various cafes for refreshments then, forming small groups, gradually made our way back to the reserve to seek out new photographic opportunities. The clifftop walks along the coastline provided picturesque views and close-up shots of seaside flora. Notably, wildlife was abundant as well. One fortunate member spotted a young deer amidst the tall grass, and another keen-eyed photographer discovered a Common Blue butterfly. Unfortunately, upon sharing this find with nearby photographers, they all rushed in to capture images of her find, reminding us of a valuable lesson: keep a good find to oneself until after securing the shot.

Eventually, the seafaring group returned ashore and joined us in exploring the reserve. One member even ventured to Eyemouth to test out his peculiar “frying pan” tripod. It is a long story but hopefully, he will share the secret and accompanying images on the club’s blog.

It’s a well-known fact that few photographers manage to carry just the essentials, and most of us end up burdened with excess gear. I, too, fell victim to this tendency, lugging around a camera, an 18-150 lens, a macro lens, a 70-300 lens, a mini tripod, batteries, a flask… the list goes on. Most of the gear was not used. It is a lovely walk around the reserve but it’s a bit of a trek with what seemed like the weight of another person on my back.

Photography over, and memory cards full of stunning images, gradually, we made our way back home, stopping at The Waggon in Kelso for a much-deserved meal and refreshing drinks. Now, the question arises: Where shall we venture next year? It’ll soon be time for the club members to put on their thinking caps and decide on the next exciting destination.

I forgot to mention that only two members fell over this year.

Ford Renton LRPS Chair GCC

Dumfries House

Club member Ian Douglas visited Dumfries House recently, here’s what he thought of the place. It sounds well worth a visit.

On 23 May I visited Dumfries House near Cumnock, which was of course saved from sale and break-up by Prince, now King, Charles. I had assumed that on a Tuesday in May, I could get a ticket for a tour of the house on the day, but not so. It is sold out for the next week!  But I could at least visit the gardens. The very extensive grounds were busy and extremely impressive.

Before visiting I was cynical about the project being viable. But clearly, it is, and King Charles has really saved it creating a great asset for what is otherwise a fairly depressed area, following the closure of the coal mines.  The gardens are massive. You can visit the gardens at no charge (apart from the walled garden that is only £3 to visit).  The house is expensive, but if you are in the Art Fund (which I am) you get into the house for free when it isn’t fully booked.  A few photos of the house and grounds. Ian Douglas

Dumfries House

Chasing the Moon

Unfortunately, as is often the case, things didn’t go as planned. Nevertheless, I decided to set up my equipment at Scott’s View, which offered a clear vantage point along the Tweed valley, facing west. My goal was to capture close-up shots of the Crescent moon and Venus in close proximity, with the possibility of including the scenic towns of Melrose and Galashiels in the foreground. Arriving at 21:30, I was delighted to observe the moon and Venus already aligned through a small opening in the cloud cover.

However, the sky was largely obscured with strips of higher clouds and faster-moving lower clouds, resulting in intermittent glimpses of either the moon or Venus, but rarely both together. Despite this challenge, I managed to take a few shots at different focal lengths before the clouds eventually obscured the view entirely. Unfortunately, the cloud cover had become complete before it was dark enough to capture Mars as well.

Venus, often referred to as our sister planet, possesses some fascinating yet inhospitable characteristics. It experiences extremely high temperatures, possibly due to a runaway greenhouse effect, with surface temperatures exceeding 450 degrees Celsius (over 840 degrees Fahrenheit). Its atmosphere consists primarily of carbon dioxide (96%), and it even rains sulphuric acid, making it far from an inviting destination for a holiday. In terms of its motion, Venus takes approximately 224 Earth days to complete an orbit around the Sun. However, due to its slow rotation on its own axis, which takes around 245 Earth days, a Venusian day is longer than its year.

Despite the challenges posed by the weather and the elusive nature of capturing the desired celestial alignment, it was a captivating experience to witness the moon and Venus in the midst of their celestial dance. Exploring the unique characteristics of neighbouring planets, such as Venus, provides a deeper appreciation for the diversity and wonders of our solar system.

Ford Renton LRPS

Yair forest

A damp day out

Saturday 18th Feb. The weather forecast was poor. Mist, drizzle and rain showers were all predicted. A few brave members ventured out to brave the elements at Yair Forest between Gala and Innerleithen.

As it transpired other than being overcast it was a great day for woodland photography. A continuous light drizzle covered the trees and plants in water droplets giving an almost Christmas tree light effect on the barer branches. The low light conditions made the lichen cover pine trees a blue hue. The potential for some nice images was high.

We set off heading west up through the wood to one of the higher levels with intention of going past the pond. It was one level too high so we decided to continue on and double back down the southern upland way (SUW) to view the pond on the way back. Before continuing however we paused to go over some of the hyperfocal distance and “expose to the right” procedures Richard Dyson talked about last Wednesday. Lessons over we trudged along the track pausing to take the odd image or two.

The drizzle had eased by this time and although still damp it was quite pleasant walking conditions. Few people were around with only a brief encounter with a pair of mountain bikers, a horse and rider and a dog walker breaking the silence.

Eventually turning downhill via the SUW we ended up at the pond passing en route some good views of the low cloud-cover hill towards Peebles. Ford made a good impression of one of the dancing hippos from Fantasia as he picked his way over the slippery rocks to try and get a reflection shot across the pond. The shot was taken but it didn’t quite turn out as imagined, that’s photography.

None of us was carrying heavy camera bags but I think the distance covered was probably far enough and the low light was getting dimmer. We headed back to the car park and home for a well-earned cup of tea. We thought Bowhill and The Lady’s Walk might be a good location for the next walk. We’ll advise of the date soonest. Ford Renton LRPS

Haining Photo Walk

Haining Photo walk January 2023

The Haining is a country house and estate in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. The present house dates from the 1790’s and was a property of the Pringle family. In 2009, the house and grounds were bequeathed to the people of Selkirkshire and the wider public. The Haining Charitable Trust is now working on developing the building as a centre for exhibitions and events, highlighting art, culture, and history.

It’s a great place for a photo walk. There’s a good presence of bird life and waterfowl. The house itself can be a good subject although it’s a bit difficult just now due to restoration works. Still, those who are a dab hand at image editing can “fix” that.

On Saturday 14th January a few members met up for a chin-wag and a photo walk around the estate and loch. The forecast wasn’t great however we were lucky and the atrocious predicted weather didn’t appear until after we’d gone.

Photo walks are a good way to pick up tips from other photographers. We are willing to share knowledge so if you’re a bit of a beginner and already a member why not join in with the next one? If you’re not a member and fancy joining watch the district news section of Border Telegraph or Southern Reporter for announcements on the next Photo walk. Ford Renton LRPS

Abbotsford Photo-walk

We’re now trying to have a monthly photo-walk around local sites. It is mainly aimed at the beginner members but it’s also good to have a blether and share ideas (without giving away secrets of course). There often isn’t time to chat for long on a Wednesday after meetings.

This month around ten members met at Abbotsford estate just outside Galashiels. Formerly the home of the world-famous author Sir Walter Scott. Writer of Waverly, Rob Roy, Ivanhoe and many others. The estate is free to wander around although you have to pay to visit the house and walled gardens. It is well worth making the time to visit the house and gardens.

I’d set a side task to capture the most creative image of Abbotsford House however, no one was restricted to just that as it was a good opportunity to capture the last of the autumn colours.

We’ve got some cracking images back on our Facebook page here are just a few on this page.

Raynox DCR 250 – Macro Conversion Lens

We’ve all tried Close-Up filters before and probably with disappointing results. To get good results in Macro Photography the best solution, and of course, the most expensive is to purchase a dedicated Macro Lens. These vary in price and quality from around £350 to over £1500.

However, a less expensive but equal in quality solution is the Raynox DCR 250 macro conversion lens. This is a 2 group/3 element lens which just clips onto the filter thread of any lens to enable high-quality 1:1 macro images to be made for a little extra cost. The Raynox 250 is currently around £90 but can be found second-hand quite cheaply.

It will fit lenses with filter threads from 52mm up to 67mm, which will account for most kit lenses. I’ve been using one for a while now and the results never fail to amaze me. The DCR 250 will easily fit in a jacket pocket so the photographer can travel light with just a kit lens camera and still be able to take superb macro shots without having to carry around an extra, and probably quite heavy, macro lens.

There are some drawbacks. On a zoom lens or wide angle lens, you can still get magnification but anything less the 50mm causes vignetting. Also, the working distance is somewhat closer than with a dedicated macro lens such as a 100mm

Here are a few results showing the gear set-up and some in-field results. I use a Canon R7 (APS-C) with an 18-150mm kit lens set at 70mm when the DCR 250 is clipped on the front. My normal settings for natural light shots are ISO AUTO, f8-f11, 1/500 sec. If using a diffused flash, and it must be diffused, I fix my settings to ISO 400, f8-f11, 1/250 (sync.) and set the flash to 70mm manual zoom and ETTL.

A Grand Day Out

It was that time of year when Gala Camera Club members go on their annual adventure. Last year it was North Berwick this year, Wallington Estate, Northumberland.

This year we again opted for car-sharing rather than a minibus mainly due to the numbers wishing to go. Twenty members met up around noon on the green at Wallington. The forecast was for showers and wind, it was correct, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits so off we went exploring the estate. There is something there for all photographers, nature, architecture, landscape, flora and macro and people. The place wasn’t very busy, probably due to the weather forecast, but other than a strong breeze and the occasional heavy shower it was quite a nice day.

Some members opted to visit the main house whilst others headed for the river walk and walled gardens. Whilst a few members had some success at the Wild Bird Hide others grabbed some superb flora shots at Wallington’s spectacular walled gardens.

We drifted back to the clock tower area in dribs and drabs from around five o’clock. After a catch-up and blether and of course, the obligatory group shot, we headed for the Redesdale Arms near Otterburn for our evening meal. I can thoroughly recommend the Redesdale. The meal was excellent and the staff very friendly and efficient, we’ll be back.