Close to nature

This was a new hide to me, not far from my home near to the tiny village of Santa Agnes de Malanyanes. I had heard about the hides of Pedro Rubio, last year he was running a very successful one for the European Kingfisher, it included an artificial water container which allowed Photographers to “catch” the bird while rocketing down to hunt the fishes!

Last year I missed that photography hide but when I heard about a possibility to shoot forest birds near to my place I didn´t doubt to contact my best known photography hide agency Photologistics.

I have to say that Pedro had managed to create a really beautiful, artistic and aesthetic ambient at the place.  He had designed a forest pool with plenty of moss, lichens and fungus, old tree logs and ancient-looking rocks and stones. The hide itself was well camouflaged with branches and had enough space for two photographers, standard one- way-only spy windows and a camping chair completed the requirements to spend several hours without complains.

My special target was the Squirrel which had it´s feeding place right on a pine tree on one side of the pool but as it always happens (I have a problem with Squirrels, I newer get them) it didn´t appear. I was not disappointed however as several bird species, among them several Eurasian Nuthatches made their way through the dense forest to the food which Pedro had cleverly hidden between the scenery. Last not least a Meadow Vole appeared but the pics I got were not good enough for Dreamstime Stock Photo so that I am not able to show any.

Male Common Chaffinch

Male Chaffinch

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Crested Tit on moss log

Crested Tit

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Eurasian Blue Tit on moss log

Blue Tit

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Female Blackcap n moss

Female Blackcap

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Great Tit bathing

Great Tit

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Great-spotted Woodpecker in European Forest

Great-spotted Woodpecker

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Female Blackcap bathing

Female Blackcap

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Great-spotted Woodpecker on tree with moss

Great-spotted Woodpecker

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Eurasian Nuthatch on log

Eurasian Nuthatch

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

European Crested Tit on pine tree

Crested Tit

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Eurasian Nuthatch on log

Eurasian Nuthatch


© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

European Crested Tit on log

Crested Tit


© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

European Robin on log with moss

European Robin


© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Eurasian Nuthatch on log

Eurasian Nuthatch


© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Crazy tree

 

Among the fruit trees here in Catalonia there is one who seems to have lost all of it´s common sense: the Almond Tree (Prunus dulcis). It has become like a symbol for springtime because it is the among the first trees in the meditarranean area to produce it´s beautiful white and pink flowers.

It doesn´t care about temperatures, in early february with or without temperatures above or below zero, with or without snow and ice, it flowers and covers itself in white.  Sometimes I wonder if we are going to eat any almond at all that year because in early february i can be very cold here, january and february are statistically the coldest months.

Almond flower springtime
© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Here they are!

After a rather cold winter for our mediterranean conditions it seems that finally spring and warmer temperatures are near.

A good sign that this was a correct perception was a Moorish Wall Gecko (Tarentola mauretanica) of a good size that I found on our garden wall getting used to the new season. This a more nocturnal lizard but this one was outside while there was still some light. I rushed for my macro and celebrated the first reptile of the year!

Moorish Wall Gecko portrait
© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Stingy and Itchy Beauty

The American Aloe (Agave americana) is a good example for erroneous common names given to plants: to begin with it has nothing to do with the Aloe plants.Secondly, the other  common names it receives,  Sentry or Century Plant, are missleading because it newer lives up to 100 years but just 10 to 30.

It is native to Mexiko and the USA but has been introcuced to other parts of the world like the mediterranean basin where this picture was taken. It has good defenses with a prickly margin on the sides of the fleshy leaves and a heavy spike on top which is a dangerous thing if you run into it. Not enough with that the juice its leaves contain is very itchy on the skin and eyes. I tried one day to trim the leaves of an Agave with a chainsaw and the resulting flying fibers caused an amazingly strong allergy on my skin, from that day on I have treated Agave plants with a lot of respect.

What called my attention however when I took the photo below was the contrast of the yellow stripes with the green leaves and the forms and silhouettes formed by them.

American Aloe close-up
© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Deep in the forest

Not far from the city of Girona in northern Catalonia there is a forgotten, dreamy and beautiful village called Sant Esteve de Guialbes, surrounded by vast cereal fields and deep, humid forests.

Two nature lovers have managed to bring the shy inhabitants of the european jungle in close reach of the cameras and marvelled eyes of those among us who are in love with anything which is alive on this planet.

Their enterprise Naturaprop has slowly developed from an initial project consisting in one hide to now three of them with different target species but all of them equally interesting and enjoyable. (I may report in the future about the other two hides)

Cal Teixo” is the veteran among the three hides and it boasts specially with the nocturnal mammals and it´s faithful Tawny Owl. Badger, Fox and Genet may appear during the night depending on the time of the year and biological circumstances, the Tawny Owl so far is a hundred per cent reliable model, always making it´s appearance early after sundown.

The night I spent in the comfortable Cal Teixo hide, the Genet and it´s other two colleagues refused to show off (the Genet came the next night though!) but the Owl was there as she does every night. Before nightfall, the late afternoon with it´s beautiful evening backlight allowed for many interesting photos of the many forest bird species which live there. After a night with not much sleep, at sunrise the forest birds appeared again at the end of my stay. During the early morning hours there were again good opportunities to get valuable images.

Common female Blackbird close-up

Female Blackbird

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Common female Blackbird

Female Blackbird

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

European Robin on ground

European Robin

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Eurasian Wren on forest ground

Eurasian Wren

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Short-toed Treecreeper on vertical log

Short-toed Treecreeper

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Dunnock bird in European Forest

Dunnock

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Great-spotted Woodpecker on tree

Great-spotted Woodpecker

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Tawny Owl on branch

Tawny Owl

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Male Eurasian Tree Sparrow on log

Tree Sparrow

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Short-toed Treecreeper on vertical log

Short-toed Treecreeper

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Tawny Owl on branch

Tawny Owl

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Blue Tit on ground

Blue Tit

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Great Tit between logs

Great Tit

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Great-spotted Woodpecker

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Short-toed Treecreeper on vertical log

Short-toed Treecreeper

© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Canon 400mm f5,6 L USM lens

After 6 years of birds being my main shooting subjects I got somehow “saturated” (or simply bored?) and felt like dedicating my interest to rather more solid themes like the cultural and historic heritage of Europe (old stones to say so). Parallel to that I concentrated on one of my passions which has always been the reptile world.

As for different personal reasons I sold my longtime and trusted Canon 300mm f2,8 IS lens and the two converters, 1,4 II and 2,0 II (both Canon). During the following time I used mainly a Canon 40mm f2,8 “pancake lens” and recently a Canon 100mm f2.8 IS L macro but at least I still kept my main camera, the Canon 5D MK III).

133px-canon_300mm_f28_img_1848

Canon 300mm f2.8 IS (Wikipedia)

It was during the last weeks that I began to flirt again with bird-photography and therefore turned my eyes back on long ,fixed telelenses. Getting my old 300mm back (it is still in the second-hand department at Casanova Foto in Barcelona) was economically unthinkable and I concentrated my attention and my wishes on the second-hand offers at Ebay.

Many read reports, many studied opinions and  many compared reviews later and dismissing any Canon lens above 1000 euros (always second-hand evidently) I filtered the possible options and ended up “focusing” (newer better said) on only one lens: the Canon 400mm f5,6 L.

canon_ef_400_f5-6

Canon 400mm  f5.6 L (Wikipedia)

Always comparing it with my former 300mm I considered pros and contras but always assuming that both lenses had a similar final optical quality.

Pros of the Canon 400mm f5.6 L compared to the Canon 300mm f2.8 IS

  • light and relatively reduced in it´s dimensions which makes it pretty portable in the field (remember, compared to the 300mm). Weight: 1,25 kg, length: 25,6 cm, maximum diameter: 9 cm, filter: 77mm. (The 300mm f2,8 reaches a weight of 2,5 kg!)
  • sharp, as sharp as it´s aristocratic sister the f2.8, at least from a subjective point of view and without entering into professional and scientific measuring methods.
  • built-in hood, extendable and easily fixed with one hand. (the f2.8 has a huge hood which needs to be fixed and removed and that takes it´s time).
  • price: 1200 to 1400 euros new, compared to the 3500 euros it takes to buy the 300mm f2.8 IS.

 

Contras compared to the 300mm f2.8 IS

  • no IS image stabilizer, when used handhold this makes quite a difference.
  • 5.6 is it´s maximum aperture, this means less light coming in and therefore less shutter speed and consequently increased risk of blurred pics.
  • minimum focusing distance is 3,5 meters, the result is a lesser magnification ratio (macro) and possible problems when shooting from a hide which is too near to the bird feeders (this happens quite often!).

As for me, I have tried this lens handheld in the field without a tripod and from a hide using a not very good and sturdy one. It is clear that you need good ( I mean bright) light to achieve high shutter speeds and avoid blurred images when shooting handheld, otherwise you will have to increase the ISO value and that means grain in our images. Having said that it is also true however that the new Canon cameras, specially the full-frames, are rather tolerant to higher ISOs, nowadays, 2000 to 3000 ISO doesn´t mean necessarily a throw-away pic, even for professional use.

The use of a tripod will allow you to keep the camera still and to shoot under low-light or at dawn and sunrise. Let´s also remember that the best Image Stabilizer is useless when you shoot for example birds in flight, in this situation it doesn´t matter if you have the very expensive or the affordable lens in your hands (but the weight of the expensive one does matter indeed!). The experience I had during the trial was that the advantage of the portability of the 400mm overpassed clearly the disadvantage of the narrower aperture, the lack of IS and the MFD. The sharpness and accuracy of the autofocus is outstanding and on the same level as the one of the 300mm!

I am now the proud owner (after a last test with a rented one) of a second-hand 400mm which is in mint conditions, I finally bought it at Casanova Foto.

If the stones could speak..

As you walk through the streets of the village of Pals, in northeastern Catalonia, you may admire the churches, chapells, walls and fortifications of this medieval town, just as any other tourist.

But if you pay attention to other small details which are not so clearly explained (in 4 languages) on the numerous posters, you may like to imagine how the life of those ancient catalans was. You see several wells inside the perimeter ofthe walls, closed areas inside the houses´used to keep the lifestock during the night safe from bandits and roaming hostile (or not even hostile) troops, you would recall to your mind those scared villagers looking down from the height of the walls watching the approaching enemy and wondering if they would survive this time.

How much happiness and suffering may those stones have seen..

But this little details are not commercially interesting for the Stock Photo business and therefore the images you see below are the typical postcard pics, that´s the way things are!

Pals medieval village main square

Main gate to the antique Pals and ancient market square, allowance given by the King Jaume II in 1293


© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Saint Peter´s Church Pals medieval village

Church of Saint Peter, for the first time mentioned in the XI century


© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Pals medieval village entrance gate

Main gate to the historic Pals


© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Pals medieval village

Streets of the historic Pals


© Photographer: Joan Egert | Agency: Dreamstime.com