Sunday, 31 August 2014

Cute swallow chicks - Fast Food for Birds on a Wire - The story behind the shots

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My swallow images were featured in the print version of the Daily Mail and MailOnline on 25th August under the headline "All together now, we demand our din-dins!" Here's some more images and the story behind the shots.

Have you noticed that the sky is full of swallows? With long, slender forked tails, black heads and red chins these seasonal visitors are a sure sign that it’s the summer. Swallows are often confused with the much larger, and completely brown swift, or the house martins which have a purely white underside.

I was visiting St Michael’s mount in Cornwall when I noticed these recently fledged chicks sitting on a wire. It was a lucky opportunity to photograph these birds feeding their young but I only had an hour before I had to catch a boat...

Technical: These images were taken with a Canon 7D using a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. Focal ranges are typically between 150-300mm, ISO 100, shutter speed average of 1/1000 sec. f5.6.

St Michael's Mount, Cornwall.

I was exploring St Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall, when I noticed these little chicks sat on a wire between two of the island’s buildings. They still had some downy feathers and had probably fledged from their nest just a day or two ago. The sun was bright and it was a great chance to get shots of these birds feeding their young.

The parents feed their young up to 400 times a day but passing food can take less than a second. Blink and you’ll miss it. Naturally the chicks are much better at spotting the adults coming back then I am, loudly begging and opening their mouths wide as they approach. I focussed on the chicks and as soon as I saw the tell-tale signs my finger was ready on the trigger.

August is peak season for swallows, seasonal migrants, who’ve been breeding in the UK since May. While they’re here they typically raise two broods of around four chicks each, but these will need to fatten up quick before they migrate south. In September they head for South Africa, flying as far as 600 miles a day. They make the 6000 mile journey in just a few weeks. It’s an incredible journey for a small bird, but by flying back and forth from the Northern to Southern hemisphere, they ensure that they have warm weather and a plentiful supply of insects to eat all through the year. Swallows eat as many as 800 insects a day - a natural pest control that help to keep down the number of flies.

Large flies make up to 80% of their diet but they also bring back aphids, flying ants and wasps. I watched as one chick received a wasp that was just too big to handle. It’s sibling greedily poked his head close looking for an opportunity to steal it.

Occasionally one of the parents would make a chick fly to take food on the wing - encouraging them to develop their flying skills. The only other time I saw the chicks leave the wire was when they spotted the threat of a sea gull passing close by. 

Their main predators are falcons such as the Peregrine and the African hobby. They will be particularly under threat from these fast aerial hunters when they head south.

It was a lovely experience but I had to dash to catch my boat... Later than evening I found secluded beach at Perranuthnoe where I was able to take some sunset and dusk shots of the shore with St Michael's Mount in the distance.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

#Supersenses BBC2 - Prepare to be amazed!

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Don't miss... 9pm BBC2

Humans have a range of senses that are truly incredible - but compared to the animal world we only see, hear and smell a tiny fraction of what is out there. There is a completely hidden world that animals across the globe can experience. In a breathtaking new series for BBC Two, biologist Patrick Aryee and physicist Dr Helen Czerski explore this world, one beyond the limits of human perception, to reveal extraordinary and surprising animal senses. 

Taking science out of the lab and to some of the most exotic locations on Earth, they conduct experiments and demonstrations with a variety of spectacular species from the animal world, including cheetahs, baboons, killer bees, elephants, owls, wolverines, giant sharks and tiny golden moles.

The first episode explores the extraordinary sense of sight in the animal world, through the spectrum of light human eyes can see – and beyond to a world they can’t. Helen and Patrick reveal how caribou - wild reindeer of Alaska - use ultraviolet light to avoid their predators; they discover how their ability to see in slow motion allows dragonflies to make a kill in the blink of a human eye, and how a snake can see in the pitch black - without using its eyes.

Patrick Aryee says: "I'm fascinated by the everyday physical world around us, and this series was a reminder of how much is out there that we cannot detect. All organisms face the problem of how to sense their world, and I was frequently surprised and delighted by the elegance and effectiveness of evolutionary solutions to that problem – and it was a lot of fun to bring a physicist's perspective to the topic of natural history."

"There were so many moments of disbelief throughout our filming, turning a camper van into a giant speaker, walking alongside a six-tonne African Elephant, being mesmerised by the unsuspecting Golden Mole and defying gravity with the power of sound. The way animals sense their environment is, more often than not, beyond our human perception, but I feel we've managed to capture a glimmer of this beautiful and alien world."

Episode 2: Sound

Presenters Helen Czerski and Patrick Aryee journey through the world of sound - from the deepest rumbles to the highest squeaks. Using specialised technology, they experience sounds beyond the range of our human hearing.

This episode reveals how alligators use low-pitch rumbles to make the water around them 'dance' and shows what it is like to be a bat and to 'see' with sound. Also, Helen and Patrick convert a classic camper van into a giant speaker to conduct the ultimate hearing test for a herd of elephants.