Happy New Year!

First post of the year, and hopefully the first of many, as I’ve got big plans for photography this year!

Visited RSPB Strumpshaw Fen this morning, which is one of my most favourite places. Why? Well, maybe because it was the first place I watched a wild otter, or because it’s the closest RSPB reserve to me, or because the people and staff are so friendly and helpful, or because I always see some wildlife there, even if I don’t always get many shots! Probably all those things! There’s more too – the big skies, the variety of wildlife, and it’s great value! Especially now we are both RSPB members (yay!) Hopefully I’ll get to visit a lot more!

So today, well we saw a lot of wildlife! Started out in the woodland, mostly to shelter from the sleety rain, but we soon came across a flock of tits. Marsh tit, Blue, Great and lots of Long-tailed tits too. Moving with them was a Treecreeper, as well as a couple of Goldcrests, which are beautiful, tiny little birds. We tried to get some shots, but the light was dreadful especially for a constantly moving subject like the Goldcrest. Anyway, moving on from the woodland we spotted a couple of Chinese Water deer, peering over the long grass at us, but too distant for photos. As I was watching them, Drew suddenly exclaimed “Oh look a Water Rail!” I turned to see the rear end of a Water Rail disappearing into the vegetation at the side of the path. They are more often seen in the open during the winter, but we certainly weren’t expecting one to literally cross our path!

The weather brightened up a bit as we arrived at the hide. A few ducks about and lots of ice still. One person in the hide spotted a Bittern flying, then a Grey Heron too. The Heron then flew in and landed on a little mound of reeds, which gave me the shot below. Later a Teal schooched across, startled by the Bittern! Which flew across and landed in the reeds in front of the hide, unfortunately not very close, but nice to see anyway!

Headed back to the car for lunch and as we were sitting there a male Sparrowhawk zoomed through, lovely slate grey back and rufousy underparts, always a great sight.

This Heron photo had an annoying out of focus branch across it, so this gave me the opportunity to have a play with Photoshop’s CS5’s ‘content aware’ tools. I was really surprised by how good it is, and as you can see after a quick play I’ve got rid of the branch completely. It was a really difficult subject too – textured water and reeds. I actually found that the bolder I was the better it performed. Whereas in the past it would have taken hours with the clone and healing tools getting in close with¬† a small brush (and I probably wouldn’t have bothered!),¬† with this new system – a quick sweep across and rough selection with the lasso gave excellent results! A little tidying up had to done with the reeds, but I’m pleased with the result. I’m not that keen on editing my photos like this, I’d much prefer to get it right in camera, but in this case I couldn’ t move as the hide was full, so there wasn’t much I could do really. It’s turned a shot that was destined for the bin into an ‘ok’ shot. It’s not a great shot, and never will be, Photoshop can’t do that, and in my view shouldn’t do that – I think nature photos should be honest. Besides where does the skill of photography go, if every shot can be ‘fixed’ in photoshop?

After:

Before:

Anyhew, here’s to a very happy, healthy and photographic 2011!