A Colourful Winter

As winters past have gone this last one here in the southern part of the UK has proved to a bit quiet on the snow front. However even though much of nature has been lying dormant there was still plenty to see and do here over the last few months.

The following ‘grouped’ pictures are some of the favourites I have taken (apart from one taken by my wife Alison) since last December. I have spent as much time as I could outdoors with my family however I feel that it could have been more (work has kept me away from home a lot recently). We are definitely a digital family however we try and balance all that screen time out with some quality dirt time.

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Family Fun

I use a Nikon D3200 Digital camera and shoot in RAW format so that I can use Adobe Lightroom to its fullest. I like Lightroom as it allows me to extract from the images (I am still learning about all the settings on my camera) I take something closer to what I saw originally or in some cases something slightly enhanced.

The sunset below was certainly not as dark as that originally however Lightroom allowed me to produce this moodier shot. The blue skies in the bottom picture were like this on the day however the shot I took the blues were all washed out. With a few tweaks though it was looking good again.

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Dramatic skies

The snowdrop and the forlorn looking hazelnut were both taken in mid winter but the wood anemone was shot just a few days ago. I included the wood anemone as it is one of the first woodland spring flowers to pop up and to say that winter is now over.

All beautiful in their own ways and all photographed in different weather conditions.

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Beauty in the detail

I took both these pictures with my Sony Z3 mobile phone as the weather conditions were to bad to bring out my Nikon. The top picture was a bit of an experiment with the guys lighting up the inside of our group parachute with their torches making it look like a downed UFO.

The bottom picture was taken inside a group parachute while we were huddled around the fire on a cold evening awaiting in anticipation for the feast to come being cooked by Dave.

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Parachute time

Mountain time this winter was limited to only one weekend however it was one to remember. The wind and the rain was incessant however this did not dampen the spirits of any of the guys I was walking with – in fact they seemed to revel in all that rain (might be due to the fact we are all either Sea or Royal Marines Cadets instructors).

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Mountain madness

My daughter Catherine is a keen photographer and she really does think about what she wants to shoot and how to approach each shot.

The top picture was taken by my wife Alison and I like how it contrasts with the one I took of Catherine lining up for her shot.

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Photographing the photographers

I have been experimenting with low light level photography so I do not have to rely on using the flash all the time.

I have found that a great time for that is when there is a fire going. These two photographs were taken on cold winter nights however I have fond memories of both evenings. The young boys had a great time learning to light a fire and the slightly older boys had fun putting the world to right around their fire.

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Friends

Still on the fire theme I have to mention ‘Fire Faces’. I have been photographing flames for years now looking for faces or figures in the flames. Two of my favourites this year were of the Roadrunner (top left) and a Dove (on the right).

My friend Fraser gets his face included as he always seems drawn to the fire when the camera comes out – kinda like a moth I suppose 😉

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Fire, fire and more fire

My last two pictures were taken just at the end of winter at the Vyne National Trust property in Hampshire. As many of the trees and flowers were dormant they set up a ‘Wild Wicker Trail’ in the grounds. There were plenty of wicker figures to spot including a heron, flowers and a fish however these two stood out for me – the Hawk and Mr Fox. Both beautifully crafted and positioned in the woodlands.

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Woodland wonders

This last few days (been resting up with a torn calf muscle) I was thinking that I hadn’t gotten out as much as I would have liked this winter however after looking through my albums I must admit that when I did get out and about – they were good times.

Cheers

George

Memorable Moments 2015 – Nature

This year I have had real fun trying to capture just a little bit of the nature I see around me when out and about on my adventures. I have had a look through some of the nature pictures I have taken this year selected the ones I have fond memories off.

Plants and Fungi

I went to the Brecon Beacons in the Spring with a few of my friends from Crisis and while walking along the banks of the Afon Mellte river near Ystradfellte I was struck by all the spring flowers emerging but it was something else that really caught my eye.

I initially walked passed these emerging Fern Fiddleheads. I stopped myself as I realised that they would make for a cracking shot if I got down low. I am glad I went back as they are quite magical looking when you get down low (I did have some passers-by step around me as I lay in the path).

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Spring Shoots

I often take a bimble around my village photographing wild flowers and rarely do I pay much attention to the mass of wheat being grown in all the fields.

I was though stopped in my tracks by this dainty little picture. It was not until I got the picture up on the computer did I realise how beautiful it would look. These are two pieces of nature that you would not normally pay the slightest bit of attention to however when they come together they end up looking like a painting.

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Spike Seat

I have dabbled a bit in Black and White photography this year and felt that this shot of some Cotton Grass lent well to that style.

I was really struggling to find some interesting shots while up in the Lake District this year and so ended up lying face down in a bog to get this shot. Well worth it though in my opinion.

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Moorland Flag

I really love to explore the art of Macro photography and have now got a couple of tripods and lens to help me with this.

While in France on a wet morning I was walking with my friends Simon and Rick and came across these Damson Berries. Problem was I did not bring my tripod along with me. I must of taken about 50 pictures of this berry and this was the only one that was properly in focus.

A real fluke but one I am glad I persevered with.

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Damp Damson

We had a busy time running a Basic Expedition Leadership course for Sea Cadet instructors this year. While waiting for them to appear out of the woods on a navigation exercise I decided to try out an experiment.

I positioned myself by a fallen log and focussed on some fungus on the log. As the guys passed by I took the shot and I think I can say the experiment worked pretty well.

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A Walk in the Woods

Insects

I cannot remember where I took this picture but I do remember seeing this little guy perched on the upturned tip of a succulent leaf. I took the shot as I could make out through the lens that his legs were resting not on the leaf but on the hairs protruding from it.

I sat watching him for about 5 minutes and he did not move once – it was as if he was on some sort of guard duty.

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Keeping Watch

For some reason this year spiders webs have been out in force. While in the Ashdown Forest my friend Charlie spotted this amazing web that was strung between two trees. The trees were about 20 feet apart and when photographed from an angle a rainbow appeared in it.

I did not see this at the time of taking the picture but had it pointed out to me by my wife Alison and my friend Eleanor. Kind of took me back a bit as I did not see it at all – maybe it is just a camera thing.

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Rainbow Web

My daughter spotted this little Dragonfly resting up at our local Church when I was running a Bushcraft stand at the church open day.

She came running up to tell me but I was teaching bowdrill and had to tell her to wait. I thought he would have been gone by the time I walked over but thankfully he was still there. Looking closely I could see why – he was sitting comfortably on a little downy bed sunning himself.

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Downy Bed

This is another one of these pictures that you take and only realise something was happening afterwards. It was taken in Southern France on an unidentified flower. I had spotted the small spider but that was all.

Later when processing the picture in Lightroom I saw that he had caught and immobilised a small wasp. I wish I had spent more time watching what was going on but at least the spider got his lunch.

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Lunch Time

This has to be my favourite nature picture of the year. It was taken by the banks of Coniston Water in the Lake District while assessing a Gold DofE Expedition.

I was waiting for the teams to appear at a check point when I started stalking Damselflies – probably looked a bit of an idiot ;-). I used my extension rings to get a bit closer and this little chap was not fazed by me at all (unlike most of the others who soon flew off).

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Got My Eye on You

Thats it for my nature memories so I will finish up with this rather nice sunset taken off Kings Standing in the Ashdown Forest. I have really enjoyed capturing nature images over the year and will no doubt be out and about looking for more beautiful and unusual images next year.

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Farewell Sunset

My last post in this series will be on the Memorable Moments I have had in the last year in the world of Bushcraft.

Cheers

George

10 Reasons to Bushmoot – 7/10 – Time for Nature

In this digital/technology dominated world we live in today I always try and make time to keep an eye on what Mother Nature is up to around me – obviously with a camera about my person 🙂

One place where I can really immerse myself back into nature is every year at the Bushcraft UK Bushmoot for a couple of weeks. This post will concentrate on some of the different ways we at the Moot interact with nature.

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Bushmoot Nature

The Moot is located in a wood on the edge of the National Nature Reserve at Merthyr Mawr Warren in South Wales. Merthyr Mawr Warren is I am told the site of the second largest sand dunes in Europe.

The wood we use is on the edge of these dunes and  was heavily planted with a variety of plants/trees after the Second World War by the local estate owners to help stabilise the dunes.

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The Playground

I like to take a walk around the site as often as possible while I am at the Moot to see what I can spot. One of my favourite spots was this little old water wheel at the edge of the site. It is a most beautiful and quiet spot to sit and observe nature.

I have a little Robin (Ok I am sure there are different ones every few years) who comes to visit me at my camp. This little fella is not shy and is always on the lookout for scraps.

My kids make this site their playground and interact with nature all the time, from climbing strange looking tree roots to making their own art by throwing Himalayan Balsam up into trees so that they hang down (quite a weird site passing these trees). As we are continually clearing back the Balsam I do not mind them doing this.

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Variety

As bushcrafters we try and minimise the impact we have on the site. For firewood we have an agreement with the local estate to buy in timber from them so as to not strip out the local wood for firewood.

Occasionally with the agreement of the estate we will take out a tree or two that has become a danger to those camping in the woods.

We have been coming to the site for over ten years and this policy of minimal impact has meant that the site remains a place of real natural diversity.

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Keeping the balance

A key attraction that the Moot has is of a place of learning. We have many highly experienced instructors that come along each year to teach. This can range from creating natural art, foraging for edible plants, understanding how everything interacts and using natures raw materials to make useful items.

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Great instruction

Part of all this learning is to know when to forage and when not to forage. In a class with Fraser from Coastal Survival this year we foraged on the coastline. We looked at many of the crabs that could be found in the rock pools and returned the many smaller ones or ones carrying eggs to where we found them. There were plenty of big crabs and shrimps though to harvest for the pot.

We also forage for lots of plants that make great teas.

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To forage or not to forage

If you like wild flowers then the Moot is a place to go to see them. Take a wander along the edge of the wood by the dunes and you will spot some real beauties like the Vipers Bugloss, Evening Primrose and the Common Centaury.

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Stunning flowers

Bushcrafters like to forage plants that they find useful and there are plenty of plants to be found here like the Rosebay Willowherb, Thistles and Burdock.

They are beautiful in their own right when in flower but it is for their uses that I look for them.

Willowherb is known as Fireweed or Bombweed and Paul Kirtley has written an excellent piece on this plant – Rosebay Willowherb: Taking The Pith

Thistles come in many varieties and I like to collect the downy seed heads for use as an ember extender. A good source of information on this plant can be found on the Eat The Weeds site – Thistle: It’s That Spine of Year

The final picture you can see at the bottom right is the bushcrafters old favourite – Burdock. As well as having an edible root at the end of its first year I collect the second year stalks to make hangers for my kit. I wrote a post on this last year – How To…. Make a Simple Burdock Hanger

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Bushcrafters plants

I like to do a bit of Macro photography from time to time and there is plenty of scope to do this at the Moot with plants and insects. Below are just some of the shots I have taken there recently showing the cycle of life.

Below you can see the lovely stripes of the Cinnabar caterpillar, the delicate features of what I think is a Meadow Brown Butterfly sunning itself, the busy life of the feeding Six Spotted Burnett to the beauty of a discarded snail shell.

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The Cycle of Life

Children and adults can be put off by insects however with a little bit of play and observation you can soon learn to live alongside insects.

My daughter had a real dislike of wasps before coming to the Moot but now is quite intrigued by them. The caterpillar you can see in the bottom picture dropped onto my friends arm one day. He was quite beautiful to look at but thankfully not poisonous in any way.

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Observing

I love to photograph insects and they come in many forms at Merthyr Mawr.

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A Bugs Life

A skill I learnt a couple of years ago from Perry McGee of the National Tracking School was the art of Dowsing. Perry taught me this in minutes and I was able to located water sources and even follow a buried hose. I do not know how this really works but it is a force of nature that intrigues me.

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Unseen Nature

Whatever interests you about watching or interacting with nature the Moot is a place to do that.

I love to photograph what I see and I have found a great place to do that at the Moot.

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The Moot

Cheers

George

Late Summer Bimbles

July, August and September were very busy months for me this year so I did not post up much about the bimbles around my local village of Bramley.

Part of this was due to receiving a rather lovely birthday present in September from my wife Alison of a new Nikon D3200 DSLR camera. I have never owned a camera that requires anything more than point and shoot before so I have spent many an evening reading up on it and practising.

Some of the pictures in this post have been taken with my Nokia phone and some with my new DSLR.

I have  put up just a few of the many pictures I have taken over the last two months and separated them into categories.

Butterflies

I am not that knowledgable about these lovely creatures so had to rely on a guide book to ID them. The three below from top left clockwise are a Comma Butterfly, a Marble White and a Silverwashed Fritillary. All were photographed in woodland glades enjoying the sunlight.

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Comma Butterfly, a Marble White and a Silverwashed Fritillary

Flowers

As usual flowers are my passion with the range of smells, colours and textures they offer. I am still confused by some flowers I find in and around the woods by our village – there must be lots of garden escapes. The yellow flower my daughter is looking at was a late bloomer; I could not identify it from my books but she liked it.

The cornflower is always a nice find but the most unusual I spotted was at The Vyne National Trust property on the outskirts of Bramley. The little flower on the bottom right was sitting on top of a perfectly manicured hedge and was too good a shot to miss.

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Cornflower (bottom left) and two unknowns

Two beautiful plants for late summer are Woundwort and Borage. Both plants have been used medicinally in the past, for treating cuts and kidney problems respectively.

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Woundwort and Borage

Ok not a flower but the flowering heads of the hogweed when caught at the right angle and light turn into a thing of beauty.

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The majestic hogweed

Fruits and nuts

I luckily have a local woodland next to me that has a carpet of wild strawberries. In the summer it was great to see these little red berries appearing and getting to nibble the odd one before the birds or slugs got to them. I managed to photograph far more hazlenuts this year (bottom left) before the squirrels snaffled them all. I don’t know if that was because I was really looking for them, there were more than usual, there were fewer squirrels about, or a combination of all of the above. As usual though there were plenty of horse chestnuts for my kids to collect. My rucksack always ended up being full of them every time I took the kids out.

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Wild Strawberries, Hazelnuts and Horse Chestnuts

Finlay spotted the apple tree in full bloom and was soon scrumping for apples in its branches. I took the bottom shot as I really liked the contrast of red and green with the rosehips and apples, both beautiful and full of vitamin C.

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Scrumping for apples through the rosehips

Leaves

I have been watching the leaves grow all year and now into the autumn I am watching them start to die off. They can be quite striking though at times with the higgeldy piggeldy white trail of the larvae from the moth larvae Nepticula aurella. A hazel leaf (bottom picture) may seem quite boring to look at first but if you put it to the light and peer closely then you see a whole new world.

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Leaves up close

Seeds

The wood aven flower is a lovely yellow colour and the plant has many uses but the flower only lasts a few months. To know it all year round you need to recognise the shape of its leaves and also the spiky seed head it produces (top left). Once you have identified one you will see them all over the place.
I like to peer inside the little capsules containing the bluebell seeds just before they fall apart and drop their seeds (bottom left). This is a second period of beauty to me with this plant, often overlooked by most people. I have no idea what the seed pod in the top right is from (taken in my garden) but it is striking.

The last one at the bottom right shows the seeds from the willowherb starting to unfurl.

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Seeds – Woodaven, Bluebells, Willowherb and one unknown (top right)

I could not resist putting this picture of the willowherb up on its own as it captures the moment the little hairs with their attached seeds are just starting to float off.

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The beauty of a Willowherb seed pod unfurling

I came across this little chap (not my son) Mr Squirrel (though it could have been Mrs Squirrel) lying in the leaf litter on one walk with Finlay. Over a number of weeks we would see this little chap slowly decomposing and both Finlay and myself found it totally fascinating.

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Mr Squirrel returning to the earth

Insects

Over the summer I have been trying to get some good macro shots of insects and I was particularly impressed with the spider in the top left picture. I took this one with my new camera as well as the honeybee (I think that is what it is) at the bottom right. The other two were captured using my Nokia phone camera.

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Up close and personal with the insects

This little packet of pink madness is the red gall of the gall wasp. I found it hanging off a bramble branch and was very confused to what it was at first until I had looked it up. I will be looking out for more of them next year when I will hopefully have some extension tubes for my camera lens so as to take far better macro pictures.

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The red gall of the gall wasp

A last little look at the beauty of the small fly and the daddy long legs.

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The fly and daddy long legs

My last picture is of one of the few ground-dwelling fungi I spotted over the summer. As far as I am concerned it is an LBJ (Little Brown Jobbie): I do not study these little critters enough to identify the different types of LBJs. I liked this one for the forlorn look it had sitting on its own on the woodland floor after something or someone had snapped it.

Thankfully as autumn has progressed more and more fungi have started to pop up all over the woods which I can identify.

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An early dejected looking LBJ

I had a great summer photographing around my village and look forward to getting some great pictures as the autumn comes to a close and winter sets in.

Cheers

George

Close up photography

I have been experimenting with my Nikon D3200 DSLR for a month now and I am very impressed with the results so far.

Also I have got Adobe Lightroom which really helps me get the best out of the pictures I take while in my learning state. I am shooting more and more in the RAW format as if I take a bad shot I have a chance of making something out of it in Lightroom.

Also I took the plunge and got the Nikon D3200 for Dummies ebook and am plowing my way through it in the hope of it all making sense one day.

Here are a selection of some of my close up work over the last month. I am enjoying this type of photography and so have been looking into lens tubes to help in this macro photography.

I hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I enjoyed shooting them and playing with them in Lightroom.

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The Comma Butterfly
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Popping out of the hedge
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Catherine investigating
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Garden seed head
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Hoverfly (I think) on an Ivy seed head
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Common fly sunbathing
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Daddy Long Legs in some rushes
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Hoverfly 2
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Spidey
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Willowherb seed
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Dandelion and fly
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Hazlenut
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Hazel stem and next year’s bud
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Cornflower
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Unknown
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The red gall created by the Gall Wasp larvae
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Willowherb seeds
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Mr Squirrel
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Ivy Seed Head
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Beautiful Borage
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Unknown
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Seen better days
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An apple and rosehip harvest

Cheers

George

Spring Growth – 16th of April 2014

As the spring growth is coming thick and fast I popped back out on Monday to see what was coming through around Bramley.

I found that the ash had started to burst through but only on some trees. The top two pictures are of ash as well as the bottom right picture.

Bottom left is lime and in the centre (bottom) I found one English oak tree that was starting to push its leaves out.

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Bursting buds

That English oak had just one solitary leaf showing when I photographed it so as I write this three days later I expect it will be well covered now. The beech tree (bottom left) that I have been monitoring had been chopped in two as they had been doing some mechanical hedgecutting in the area. Thankfully as you can see the bottom half of the beech is managing to push some leaves out.

The silver birch in the middle picture has produced masses of leaves and they taste exceptionally good at the moment. On the right looking very shiny the lime tree I have been watching has just a few leaves showing now. Finally on the bottom right the alder is well established with leaves as it had started two weeks ago.

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Young leaves

There are plenty of flowers out there still, including  primroses, stichworts, wood anemones and wild strawberries to name a few, but two caught my attention this trip. The top two show the early purple orchid and the bottom two the masses of bluebells that have appeared over the last week.

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New Flowers

My kids had a great time looking for these orchids so we decided to make a little video of it.

Orchid Hunting with Catherine and Finlay

Cheers

George

Spring Growth – 5 April 2014

I have been out and about again seeing what has been appearing in the woods around my village.

I took my son out this time and we used our bikes to get around. Normally I would walk so I would not miss anything but this time I wanted to try something new, that is to video my ’round’. My round consists of 12 sites I visit every week or two to see what is appearing at each site and in between each site photographing the growth appearing on certain trees.

Here are some of the pictures I took as I filmed. From left to right they are (top row) cherry blossom, orchid leaves, (bottom row) oxlip, hedge garlic and marsh marigold. All of the flowering parts of these plants – apart from the orchid, which hasn’t flowered yet – have been appearing in just the last week.

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Spring flowers, leaves and blossom appearing

Lots of trees have finally been bursting their buds. Below from left to right are (top) alder, goat willow, (bottom) apple and cherry.

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Leaf burst 1

Also appearing have been the silverbirch, hawthorn, hazel and horse chestnut:

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Leaf burst 2

Some trees are still waiting to leaf and they include the English oak, lime, beech and (bottom right) the ash. I haven’t yet identified the bud shown in the middle right picture: any ideas?

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Still in bud

While I was doing all this photography I tried a little experiment using my mini iPad camera filming my route. Sorry about the quick change between scenes and all the movement, I will try and work on making this easier on the eye in future.

Spring Plant Hunting With Finlay

Cheers

George