Tuesday, 14 April 2015


Spring is undoubtedly my favourite season, as it's the time of year which new life is formed all over the countryside. It is magical, but it also provides so many opportunities for wildlife photography

I installed a camera bird box around 3 years ago into my garden, which has provided a nest site for two sets of Blue Tit pairs. However this is the first year a Great Tit has began to build a nest. The Great Tit has been roosting in the bird box every night since the 3rd of January, but has only started to bring in nesting material over the past few days. There is a plentiful supply of nesting material in the garden, predominantly available at my homemade nesting material dispensers.  I visited RSPB Carsington Waters with my family a few weekends ago, and captured this shot of a very confident Robin! It had been singing its heart out whilst we were having lunch.

Stiff hairs on the bees legs allow the pollen to collect and be transported from flower to flower. This is vital to ensure that plants, including our crops, can be fertilised and then go onto reproduce. Each flower contains both male and female reproductive parts, however self fertilisation is not as common as you would think. In the picture above, you can clearly see that the flower in the foreground contains much more pollen than the flower in the background. There are many different types of bee, ranging from a larger Garden Bumblebee which is typically 11-16mm in size, to the tiny Brassy mining bee which is only 5mm! Bees are declining all over the world…and fast. This is going to affect the largest ecosystem in the world…..the earth itself. Everything is going to be affected. Their decline is mainly due to the changes in agriculture, including the use of pesticides.

If you want to help, get out in the garden and make a bee hotel! You can achieve an effective bee hotel in many easy and cheap ways. Below: This is the bee hotel I made a few weeks ago. 

Every year my patch gets a brief visit from a group of bullfinches, including two males and one female. I'm not sure if they are the same three individuals but it is still amazing to have such exotic, colourful birds visiting my patch. They have never ventured down to my bird feeders but they do often hang around in the overhanging apple trees. If anyone knows any special ways of tempting the Bullfinches down, then let me know! 

As I said, I have got a camera bird box installed in my garden, but I have also got an exciting new bird box this year, which is homemade. A Blue Tit pair has been building their nest in this box which is very exciting. One of the pair has very distinct black markings on its face, possibly caused by loss of feathers, or something similar. This bird box has got a glass back, and is mounted on my shed. This lets me get incredibly close to the action. 

I have done may things to ensure I do not disturb the birds at all, here they are:
  • I have a piece of one way acrylic which I fit over the glass when I'm not filming.
  • I also have an opaque panel which I use to cover the nest for the majority of the day.
  • I ensure the lights in the shed are turned off before I look at the nest.
So far, the birds have not seemed at all disturbed by my presence. However if anyone has any suggestions then let me know.

Above: Here is the Blue Tit (No. 1) bringing in nesting material.

Day One of building: Moss has started to be brought into the box. It is certainly a time consuming process!

Day 3: A good 1/3 of the box is now filled with moss. The pair have been working very hard! They are doing a great job.

Day 5: The moss is now being covered by materials such as fine straw and hair. I think some of the hair may have been taken from my nesting material dispenser!

Day 7/8: The nest is coming along leaps and bounds, with a final lining of feathers cushioning the nest.  The individual that seems to be doing most of the nest building is the bird with no markings on its face. The bird with the markings is seen less regularly.

Below is my predictions for egg laying, egg hatching and fledging (based on the last 3 years of nest monitoring on my patch, and using information from the internet.)

Predictions of the three primary nesting stages

I know not to get my hopes up, as several nests around the garden have been predated on by other animals on numerous occasions. However, I do hope that this pair (and their fledglings) keep away from danger!

Behind the Scenes
I started working towards this project quite a while back, probably around September last year. Firstly I removed the back of a £5 bird box from my local garden centre. I used a frame (obviously with the picture removed) to provide my 'viewing window' into the box. 

As you can see, the front of the box looks like any old bird box, and it therefore won't put off any potential resident birds! 

I then cut out a pretty big hole in the wall of our garden shed, looking out over a beautiful plum tree! I used a staple gun to secure the bird box into position. Since this photo, I have obviously done much more work on the box. This includes: covering up the huge gap above the frame, sealing the smaller gaps around the edge of the box, and providing two covers for the bird box (one being the one-way acrylic and the other being the opaque panel). 

It is a really magical experience to be so close to the birds. I am looking forward to the arrival of chicks...

Keep an eye on my blog, and my twitter (@StockwellBilly) for more update on this project!

Here is some footage of one of the pair entering the box, and doing some ruffling around!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Wonderful trip to the Natural History Museum!

I spent yesterday in London with my Mum and Brother, exploring the Natural History Museum and its exhibitions, including 'Corals of Life' and 'Sensational Butterflies'. 

Both were informative, but also captivating. I think that this is due to the live specimens on display, the butterflies and a mini, yet functioning coral reef made up of live individual corals and tropical fish. Although I disagree with keeping animals captive on larger scales, such as SeaWorld and zoos which are run for profit, these smaller scale displays are educational, but also catering to the animals needs. 

First the 'Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea' exhibition:

I really enjoyed reading about all the different types of coral which were on display around the exhibition. Reading the discoveries of Charles Darwin made me realise how much we've (humans) have learnt because of people like Darwin…but also how much left there is still to learn. There was a good balance between information on the corals themselves and other additional information, such as how they are now threatened by man (what isn't?) Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, and if lost will affect countless of marine species. However, it will not only affect the wildlife. If we loose coral reefs, coastal natural disasters will increase in strength, and will affect human's living along the coast. 

The reason that they are becoming very threatened is due to the rise in sea level, restricting the light which the corals get. Other effectors included: more water pollution, rising sea temperatures which causes coral bleaching, and over-fishing which disrupts the food-chains within the coral ecosystems. 

5 things you can do to help coral reefs out a little:
  1. Don't buy plants which have been protected from pesticides, as this can run-off into waterways and pollute the seas. Go Organic!
  2. Support locally fish companies who fish in local waters. 
  3. Recycle, recycle, recycle!
  4. If you go diving amongst coral, never remove any of the coral, and never touch.
  5. Educate others. Let them know what they can do, and why they should be doing it.

Who knew it….corals are animals! Well, most people probably knew it, except me. Unlike plants, corals do not make their own food. Corals are made up of thousands of tiny animals called polyps (a type of invertebrate). 

Then we visited the 'Sensational Butterflies' exhibition:

Like I said earlier, it was amazing to be so close with these live specimens. These butterflies are from all over the world, from almost every continent. The exhibition takes place in a very large marquee-type room, with a meandering trail to follow. The conditions were hot and humid, perfect for butterflies, and there was plenty of fruit around to feed the butterflies and to provide the visitorswith intimate views of the different species.

I can't say I'm a butterfly expert, because I'm not. But they really do fascinate me…particularly how quickly they can fly! They may look almost drunken when there crash landing on a flower in the garden, but they actually fly with great precision. I liked to get unclose shots of the different species, with a plain background so that there beauty wash't missed. 

All the species were so different, varying in size, shape, colour and pattern. Some were so delicate and had such detail on their wings that it almost looked like they had been painted. I liked the shot below as it is showing the huge visual contrast between the different species! The butterfly at the bottom had transparent wings! 

It was pretty hard to get unclose shots, as I only had my 55-250mm lens so that I was prepared if a parakeet flew by whilst walking round London! Even with a relatively long lens, I still managed to get some nice up lose shots of the details of the butterflies. I did have to stand quite far back to take the photos though...

 Finally, we visited the wildlife garden before going to a talk on the evolution of wildlife film-making at the Attenborough Lecture Theatre. In the wildlife garden there was a tree which had a small door on the exterior. When you looked inside, there was a colony of bees working away, behind a perspex panel (whew!) This gave me all sorts of ideas for my patch….you'll have to wait and see.

The photo above is the reflection of reeds and other vegetation in the wildlife gardens's pond. It really reminds me of Claude Monet's work, and even looks more like a painting than a picture. 

I would recommend the two exhibitions to anyone visiting London over the summer. They were both really interesting and reasonably prices. And remember, it's all going to a great cause.