Tag: wildlife (Page 1 of 3)

A Nature Walk around Warren Farm

I first heard of Warren Farm from the many diverse posts shared on the EWG Facebook page, seeing numerous photos of red kites, kestrels and skylarks soaring high above the 61-acre space, little owls looking out from the tree hollows of oak and a rainbow of insects and spiders.

Photo by Chantal Anita

I have only visited once before and with Spring fully upon us, a second visit was well overdue.

Over the last few years, my bird identification skills have improved, but other than bees and wasps, it is rare for me to catch a glimpse of invertebrates, let alone try to identify them.

As such, my mission was to spend more time in nature to improve my knowledge, focusing in on birds and insects. Yet, with an estimated 27,000 insects across the UK, I realised that I needed to go with people who could help me identify what I saw.

Julian, a member of EWG, an amateur entomologist and amazing macro photographer, who regularly frequents this space, had kindly offered to let me accompany him on one of his solo photography walks. Unbeknownst to him, I ended up hijacking his kind offer and using it as an opportunity to have other people come along.

Photo by Chantal Anita

The walk was to start at 10 am outside the Fox Pub in Hanwell. A popular meeting point for the Ealing Wildlife Group.

A group of 9 of us, plus Max the very well-behaved dog, headed in via the Green Lane entrance, crossing the River Brent on our way. Upon our arrival, Katie, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society running the campaign seeking Local Nature Reserve designation to save Warren Farm from development and frequent visitor, had arranged for some members of a local nature group to attend. Quickly our group of 9 turned into closer to 20.

The precious acid and neutral grassland meadow habitat, perfect for native wildflowers and grasses, creates a rich and diverse environment for a multitude of insects and spiders. As with any species-rich ecosystem, invertebrates are key in making it perfect for the mammals and birds which feed on them.

‘The world is full of magic things, waiting for your sense to grow sharper.’

W. B. Yeats

‘So, where do we start?’ someone asked.

Julian knelt down over some foliage and said ‘Getting low is the best way to see things.

Realising that getting low opens up a whole new world of discovery! Photo by Chantal Anita

I leant over the nettles and brambles and stopped to focus in on a few leaves for no more than a few seconds. I spotted the rich red ladybird and then immediately, I saw another, then another. It was as though the first one gave me the key to sight. I looked at them with the same wonder a small child sees the world.

My eyes moved slowly over the leaves in front of me. Within the space of a few meters, crickets and grasshoppers clustered next to one another, more ladybirds including a yellow 14 spotted, caterpillar webbing, flower beetles, wasps, butterflies, bees and spiders. 

Those knowledgeable among us happily helped to identify what we saw. At times, the owners of well-thumbed ID books were keen to show us what we were seeing. I found there to be something very special about a group of strangers coming together to both share their knowledge and learn from each other all whilst having fun. 

Learning as we go. Photo by Chantal Anita

I saw for myself the kestrel and red kites hunting high up in the sky. The numerous binoculars were shared around to help us get better views of the screaming parties of swifts and linnets, passing overhead like bullets. 

I watched nesting pairs of skylarks rise into the sky, singing as they went, before hurtling back down, disappearing into the knee-high vegetation of the field. 

The little owl was spotted in the oak, however, I missed out on a glimpse.

We spent the next 3 hours walking around this important habitat, witnessing this space which had been allowed to succumb to nature and create a much valued and needed ecosystem.

During a short break, Katie used it as yet another learning opportunity to show us feathers she had collected and test our knowledge.

Up close and personal Photo by Chantal Anita

I have no doubt I will be back, hopefully next time with even more people to show this vast and diverse space to.  I look forward to the summer months, when the grasses will be higher, bringing even more life – given we never stop learning, I hope that next time, I will be more attuned to spotting and identifying more of what I see.

There is currently a campaign to turn this space into a designated nature reserve and I can see why – it really is a treasure so make sure it’s your next destination.

I am grateful to those who helped bring such knowledge to our day:

https://www.warrenfarmnaturereserve.co.uk/

Sign the Petition

@julian_with_a_camera

@warrenfarmnr

@wanderfulldn

Ealing Beaver Day

On Thursday May 26th at 7pm we’re delighted to be hosting our friends from Beaver Trust at Horsenden Farm (Horsenden Ln N, Horsenden, Greenford UB6 7PQ) to give an evening talk followed by a panel discussion to answer some of the questions and concerns arising from our public consultation on beaver reintroduction in Ealing. Our project partners Citizen Zoo, Friends of Horsenden Hill and Ealing Council will be there too to answer questions and join the discussion. Gathering in the courtyard from 7pm, Perivale brewery will be open to provide refreshments. Talk starts at 7.30pm.

Translocated Eurasian Beaver (Photo: Roisin Campbell-Palmer, Beaver Trust)

Earlier in the day we’re hosting a couple of guided tour talks and walks at Paradise Fields to explain our proposed beaver reintroduction in situ. We expect to see and hear lots of wildlife. All welcome. 1pm and 5pm for guided walks starting at the underpass from Westway Retail Park (via McDonalds car park, postcode UB6 0UW), but drop by all day from 1pm.

Paradise Fields aerial view (Photo: James Morton)

The Dawn Chorus

WHY DO BIRDS SING SO GAY?

(from the song, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, originally by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers.)

Wren singing, by Caroline Farrow

It’s just after five in the morning and I’ve been up an hour. It’s getting lighter by the minute and getting noisier, too. I’m an early bird today because I’m sound recording the dawn chorus, on International Dawn Chorus Day, 1 May 2022. And it sounds sublime.

On my garden terrace, which overlooks Hanger Hill Park, I’ve set up a pair of microphones running to a sound recorder in the house. I’m inside, with the recorder, to keep warm although it is a very mild morning. The main reason is so as not to add any of me to the recording. I just want the birds as they make themselves heard over the sound of the A40. Even at dawn on a Sunday morning the sound of the A40 is there. Ordinarily, when I’m in the garden, I tune out the sound of the road that is about half a mile away. Microphones, however, can’t do that and hear all. But the sound of the vehicles making their way in and out of London is also part of the recording. The birds live with the A40: it’s an urban dawn chorus. They will sing whether it’s there or not. But why are they singing in the first place? They are not singing for me….

A very enthusiastic robin singing, by Caroline Farrow

The dawn chorus commences about an hour before sunrise and not all of the birds start singing at the same time as if from a musical director’s cue. If I overlooked Warren Farm, one of the first to start singing would be skylarks – there’s some truth to the saying, “up with the lark.” Hanger Hill Park doesn’t have any skylarks but there are plenty of robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and song thrushes to start the chorus off. Corvids join in and smaller, more delicate, birds such as warblers and wrens that are more sensitive to a chilly dawn pipe up when the singing is well underway. Even tawny and little owls may join in along with rhythmical accompaniment from great spotted woodpeckers as they drum in support. (Males hammer against dead trees and other resonant objects to proclaim territory ownership. One regularly uses a nearby ‘phone mast.)

Skylark singing, by Caroline Farrow

As Dawn’s rosy fingers put the stars to flight it’s still pretty dark and foraging for food is difficult. What better time to sing for a mate or reinforce territory ownership? Singing in broad daylight can be dangerous because it risks the attentions of a predator. It’s best to advertise in dim light before the singer’s position is betrayed. The air is often still and more humid at dawn allowing birdsong to travel much further. (It seems to make the A40’s presence more apparent, too!) As the light strengthens the dawn chorus diminishes as birds drift off on the hunt for food. Singing is hard work and depletes energy reserves which may be at a low ebb after a night’s roost. It is the fittest, best-fed males who sing the strongest, loudest, longest and most impressive song. Females choose a mate who sings best, because such a male is more likely to be good at raising chicks, to have a good territory, or to pass successful genes to their young. In many species, once the female has been attracted, the male will sing less often. A bird that sings on and on, late into the season, is probably a lonely ‘bachelor’ who has failed to attract a mate or perhaps an already paired-up male looking to hook up with another female as with dunnocks with their notoriously complicated ‘love lives.’

A young blue tit, eating and singing, by Caroline Farrow

The dawn chorus is well worth getting up for or, if you are a night-clubbing, gig-going raver delaying getting into bed for! Listen to the dawn chorus stereo recording that I made, perhaps in its entirety (it’s just over 45 minutes) or just dip in and out. Whichever way you listen simply enjoy nature’s songsters. They will gladden your heart.

The recording was made with a matched pair of AKG C451E microphones, with CK1 capsules, in Rycote Softie windshields. The microphones were arranged as a spaced pair. The digital recorder was a Marantz PMD661 and the file format was WAV with a sampling rate of 48kHz at 24bits. The listening mp3 file is barely edited – faded in and out only.

Nigel Bewley

Grand Opening Day Costons Lane

The big day is coming – and we can’t wait for it!

This Sunday (08/05/22) marks a very important milestone for Ealing Wildlife Group: it’s the day we will officially open EWG @ Costons Lane to the public and we’re oh – so very excited about it.

There is still a lot we want to do with our reserve to keep it flourishing, but we’re dedicating the whole day to celebrate how much we have achieved so far and to finally share the progress and benefits of the reserve with the wider community.

We would be delighted to see you there so we can show you around, tell you a bit more about our plans for the reserve and perhaps interest you in some activities (and coffee!).

The big day will be 8th May 2022, from 10 am to 4 pm. We are off Ruislip Rd right across the road from Lidl. For a location map please click here.

All-day activities:

  • plant sale
  • tours of the reserve
  • more info about EWG and our work
  • activities for the kids (pond dipping, face painting, building a bug hotel, and a wildlife treasure hunt!)
  • Refreshment table with cakes, coffee, tea, and juice

1pm: Ribbon-cutting ceremony

2pm: Opening of our bird hide

What is EWG @ Costons Lane?

Back in 2020, EWG took over the old allotment site at Costons Lane with the objective of turning it into a nature reserve and education centre. 

With the help of our amazing volunteers, we were able to transform an unused green space into one full of wildlife (we’ve already spotted different butterflies, spiders, newts, slow worms, bats, solitary bees, and even some frogspawn!).

Before and After

A Sneak Preview

You can read more about Costons Lane here and here

We hope to see you there!

For further information or press enquiries please contact hello@ealingwildlifegroup.com

Ealing Beaver Reintroduction Project: statement of intention.

We are excited to announce that we intend to apply for a license from Natural England to reintroduce Eurasian beavers to Ealing in a controlled enclosure trial at Paradise Fields in North Greenford. This is a joint project between Ealing Wildlife Group (EWG), Ealing Council, Citizen Zoo and Friends of Horsenden Hill, supported by experts at the Beaver Trust. Ealing Council have agreed to provide ranger support and partial financial backing from Section 106 developer funding to improve the local environment and provide community benefit. We will be seeking further funding for the project in order to make it happen should our application be successful.

Site scoping visit at Paradise Fields, January 2022. Left to right: Jon Staples (Ealing park ranger), Martin Smith (Friends of Horsenden Hill), Sean McCormack (Ealing Wildlife Group & London Beaver Working Group), Róisín Campbell-Palmer (Beaver Trust), Elliot Newton (Citizen Zoo & London Beaver Working Group), Ben Stockwell (Citizen Zoo & London Beaver Working Group).

Following a series of visits, Paradise Fields has been identified as highly suitable habitat for beaver reintroduction, and as a flagship London rewilding project. The intention is to enclose most of the 10 hectare site and uniquely to allow visitors to enter an immersive experience in a rewilding beaver landscape. Studying the impacts of beavers in the urban landscape in an enclosed trial setting at first is very important before wider free-living beaver reintroduction is considered, or before natural recolonisation occurs over the coming years.

Free living wild beavers are already as close to London as Medway in Kent to the South and Oxfordshire in the west. Natural recolonisation is almost an inevitability. Learning to live alongside beavers is something that landowners, local councils, residents, conservation organisations and other stakeholders are going to have to do in future. And excitingly today, the 17th March 2022, Forty Hall Farm in Enfield released a pair of beavers into a woodland enclosure under license in a joint project by Capel Manor College and Enfield Council, the first beavers to live in London in 400 years.

The key objectives of our proposed project are:

1) Learn to manage beavers in the urban context including monitoring flood mitigation effects in an urban catchment


2) Habitat and biodiversity improvements on site, with a view to later reintroduce water voles,  now considered locally extinct 


3) Public engagement of local urban communities with nature, biodiversity and nature based solutions/ecosystem services

Public engagement with the proposed beaver reintroduction is absolutely crucial to all involved in the project. We will be asking site users to modify behaviour to some degree like in taking care to close gates, not to litter, to walk dogs on lead, sticking to paths, cyclists will need to dismount to enter and exit, report any fence damage and so on. And for that reason we recognise there may be concerns from local residents or site visitors about a project of this nature, so we are launching a public consultation survey to request feedback, insights and so we can answer any concerns raised. Please do take part in the survey here, where you can also sign up to our beaver project mailing list:

https://forms.gle/mFPmYdkzDTWQCMbJ9

For more information on why beaver reintroduction is being considered in London, and the associated benefits of projects such as this, here’s a talk by our friend and colleague Elliot Newton from Citizen Zoo:

For further information on beavers and the ecosystem services they can provide, please take a look at the Beaver Trust website (https://beavertrust.org/) and the short film ‘Beavers without Borders’:

For more information or press enquiries please contact hello@ealingwildlifegroup.com.

Bringing Beavers back…to Ealing?

Left to right: Jon Staples (Ealing park ranger), Martin Smith (Friends of Horsenden Hill), Sean McCormack (Ealing Wildlife Group & London Beaver Working Group), Róisín Campbell-Palmer (Beaver Trust), Elliot Newton (Citizen Zoo & London Beaver Working Group), Ben Stockwell (Citizen Zoo & London Beaver Working Group).

An exciting meeting of various stakeholders took place on January 17th 2022 to scope out the potential for an urban beaver reintroduction project in London. Ealing Wildlife Group are entering talks to partner with Ealing Council park rangers, Friends of Horsenden Hill and Citizen Zoo to apply for a licence for an enclosed urban beaver reintroduction trial.

Sean McCormack exploring Paradise Fields, one of the proposed locations for a London Beaver reintroduction trial

We recently invited the Beaver Trust, London Beaver Working Group and Citizen Zoo to come and assess the proposed release site, Paradise Fields in Greenford, Ealing. And the feedback was very promising and positive that the site is suitable and our proposal would be supported.


Beavers are coming back in the UK landscape and it won’t be long before they reach more urban areas. Indeed there are already free living beaver populations as close to London as Medway in Kent to the Southeast and Oxfordshire to the West. So we need to learn to live alongside them when they do arrive. An enclosed trial in the urban setting therefore could provide us with a lot of learning opportunities.

We are keen to set up an enclosed urban trial in Ealing to assess and monitor:

  1. how beavers can mitigate flooding in the urban landscape
  2. how urban communities engage with beaver reintroduction, rewilding and wildlife reintroduction
  3. how beavers can alter urban wetland habitats and improve their biodiversity
  4. how beaver-human-landscape conflicts can be mitigated in the urban landscape
  5. how we can bring back other threatened or locally extinct wildlife species such as harvest mice and water voles using beavers as ecosystem engineers

Here is a great talk by our friend at Citizen Zoo, Elliot Newton, explaining why bringing back beavers to London is a good idea:

For further information or press enquiries please contact hello@ealingwildlifegroup.com

‘The Harvest Mouse’ by Maria Lundy

The Harvest Mouse

Running along grasslands green

The smallest rodent goes unseen,

At the woodland edge they stop to feed

On Fruits, flowers, and types of seed

A field of hundreds and there’s more

spread around the farmyard floor

Our fur and white belly reflect our kind

and Camouflage, so we are hard to find,

with rabbits, bats and water vole

we are found near the stoats and European mole.

A field of a hundred and a handful more

spread around the farmyard floor

Builders come and chase us away,

with bricks and houses day by day,

The harvest mice we start to hide

In the ever-decreasing countryside.

A field of fifty and no more

Scattered about the farmyard floor

The fields and farms are fading fast

The beds and hedgerows don’t seem to last,

The cereal crops we cannot see

are left as a lonely plant or tree.

A field of twenty and no more

Scarce about the farmyard floor 

So now we are placed around the UK

To conserve our breed and be ok,

Plant us crops, chemical free

Bring your binoculars and look for me,

In fields in Ealing, and plenty more

Around the farmyards, close to your door.


Maria Lundy 

2021 5th Annual Photography Competition is now open!

Mission:

An exhibition of photography to highlight the wonderful nature and wild spaces on our doorstep, celebrating the important relationships between people and local wildlife in Ealing.

“Wake me up before you go go” by Steve Morey Overall 1st place winner 2020

Judging criteria:

We want to explore what nature and wildlife means to you. Everyone sees their surroundings through a different lens, so we want to celebrate diverse personal journeys and individual relationships with nature.

This is not purely a technical photography exhibition; equally if not more important is the portrayal of images that will engage the public with the natural world at a local level in Ealing.

We will judge each photograph impartially, without bias and keeping the mission of the exhibition in mind.

The judging panel consists of a panel of wildlife and/or photography enthusiasts, including members of Ealing Wildlife Group, Ealing Council Park Rangers as well as amateur and professional photographers.

Candy-Coloured fly by Sennen Powell 2020 2nd place Up Close and Personal

Categories:

  1. Community Conservation: Showcase people, projects or places coming together to care for, protect, enhance and conserve Ealing’s natural spaces. Or tell a story through an image that captures what community conservation means to you.  
  2. Abstract Nature: Capture the artistry and magic of nature, which could be the play of light and shadows creating fascinating patterns and shapes, or an abstract image exploring an object’s natural shape and form. This category is wide open so let your creativity go wild!
  3. Urban Nature: It’s incredible what creatures and life shows up in urban environment, so show us where the man-made environment meets the wild.
  4. Relationships with Nature: Capture the meaning of nature and wildlife to you and tell us why it makes your heart sing.
  5. Up Close and Personal: This can be taken literally if you’ve captured incredible detail, it can cover macro photography or you can interpret it as imaginatively as you wish.
  6. Young Wildlife Explorers: This is the under 16s category and seeks to celebrate our young wildlife enthusiasts and engage other young people with nature.
Mike Calden, 2017 1st Place Overall Winner

Submission guidelines:

  1. All submissions must be your own work and by entering you declare you have the legal rights to that image.
  2. Each entrant can submit up to three photographic images to be judged for competition
  3. Submission of entries does not guarantee inclusion in the exhibition.
  4. Entries will be eligible for a first, second and third award in 6 categories as well as placing in the overall winner category.
  5. You should specify which category you are entering; judges will appraise each entry using the categories as judging criteria but may award your photo in another category if deemed fit.
  6. High res original jpeg files to be submitted online at https://ealingwildlifegroup.com/2021-photo-competition/  by midnight on Wednesday 13th October 2021.  Maximum size of images is 15MB.
  7. Entries submitted after the deadline will not be eligible. Late entries cause extra admin and will NOT be accepted.
  8. Excessive manipulation of images is not allowed and will be grounds for disqualifying a photograph. 
    • Types of editing that are not allowed:
      • Excessive vignettes.
      • Artificial borders. 
      • Extreme changes to colour, saturation, light, or contrast.
      • Adding, moving or removing objects, animals or parts of animals, plants, people etc. 
      • The removal of dirt, highlights, backscatter, bubbles, debris and similar.
      • Composites.
      • Painting the foreground/painting out the background 
      • Anything that could be viewed as rendering the image a dishonest representation will be disqualified.  
    • Types of editing that are allowed:
      • Digital adjustments including tone and contrast, burning, dodging, cropping, sharpening, noise reduction, minor cleaning work (e.g. removal of sensor dust or scratches on transparencies/scans, removal of chromatic aberration),
      •  HDR, stitched panoramas, focus stacking are permitted providing that they do not deceive the viewer or misrepresent the reality of nature, or what was originally captured by the camera.
  9. No photos of staged wildlife shots, no captive animals, no dead creatures posed as if alive are allowed.
  10. Photographs must have been taken within the Borough of Ealing within the last 5 years; the exact location is to be included in the submission details.
  11. Please include your camera or phone details (e.g. ‘iPhone 10’ is fine, we have winners every year using phone cameras). List the settings if you wish so others who are interested in technical details can learn.
  12. Your description of the photo is just as important as the photo itself and is part of the judging criteria so please fill it in with more than just a name of species or subject and location. We want to hear the story of the photo and perhaps what it means to you. Failure to provide a good description that will be displayed with your entry may lose you significant points in judging.
  13. By submitting your photo to the competition you agree for EWG to share the image in promotional materials in future, with credit to you, the photographer.
  14. Winners will be announced at the opening of the exhibition in Walpole Park this Autumn and a list of winners will be posted online afterwards on Facebook and our website. We cannot guarantee all winners will be informed individually afterwards, and certainly not before the opening of the exhibition. 
  15. Political agendas are not factored into any part of the judging criteria. Photos win on their own merits.

Good Luck everyone! 🍀😊

Heather from Calderglen on Ealing’s Harvest Mice

Heather Ryce releasing her captive bred harvest mice at Horsenden West meadows

“Conservation work involves the protection, preservation or restoration of nature and biodiversity, not a task one would immediately associate with Instagram or TikTok. However, more and more we are utilising social media platforms to share ideas and information, organise events and have conversations with one another regarding wildlife and the environment. It’s blending our very primal need to be one with nature with our newly evolved reliance on technology, and in most cases, it is working to the benefit of the natural world. 

In the case of releasing endangered captive-bred harvest mice back in Ealing we have Instagram Stories to thank. No, really. 

I have followed Dr Sean McCormack and Ealing Wildlife Group on social media for a while. I was inspired by the passion and innovation of both and drawn back each time on my phone by the community spirit and the sharing of wildlife photographs and information.

When Sean posted on his Instagram about a new project to return harvest mice back in a suitable habitat and monitor their population I paused my Netflix show, put my glass of red wine back on the coffee table and furiously began constructing my reply. I had to be involved. 

I work as an Animal Keeper and Education Officer at a small zoo in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. We care for a very successful breeding group of harvest mice and had been on the look out for a while for a project to introduce our mice back into the wild, as we were reaching maximum capacity in their enclosure. 

Some of the first Calderglen mice installed in EWG’s brand new captive breeding programme HQ

We had explored options in the past, but nothing seemed to work out or last. I wanted a project that Calderglen could fully get behind and believe in, and that gave our Scottish mice the best chance at surviving. 

After talks with Sean I knew the area chosen for their release and the people involved offered the harvest mice the best chance at restoring a wild population in Ealing. A species that hasn’t been recorded there since the late 1970s. It was time for that to change. 

After a couple of months of more conversations and planning with Sean the morning arrived for the long journey down to London. I plucked the fittest mice from the safety of their captivity, clinging unknowingly to their corkscrew hazel branch and silently wished each one good luck as I placed them into the travel box, awaiting a life of freedom only wild animals understand. 

It’s not lost on me the control humans have over non-human species and even though in my heart I knew I was doing the right thing for the conservation of harvest mice, looking at each individual twitching face, I also battled with doubt if it was what they would want. 

It may seem silly, after all how could a mouse possibly understand the concept of consent and the importance of its little life in the preservation of its entire species, but it certainly picked at my moral compass regardless. 

It’s why I take so much comfort in Ealing Wildlife Group’s project because out of the many that have been reviewed by Calderglen this one surpassed expectation. 

Heather Ryce at Horsenden Farm, ready to go release her precious charges into the wild

It was a lovely evening when I met with members and volunteers of Ealing Wildlife Group and I quickly felt I was with ‘my people’. Our enthusiasm and passion kept the chat flowing as the sun started to dip and the smiles and laughs just got wider and louder even after we stopped recording videos on our phones. Everyone was excited to be there, everyone wished for the success of the project, and everyone believed it was the right thing to do to give back to nature. 

Heather and EWG’s Caroline and Sean chat to passersby about the mice and reintroduction programme

We let Calderglen’s mice go in thickets of grass and flowers, with a small shelter and some food left behind for a short-term resource if they should need it. I watched one particular brown and white fuzzy ball dart immediately from the travel box and wind its way gracefully into the foliage. 

Heather, Sean and Caroline assess a likely release location for one group of mice

A bubble of emotion rose in my throat as I again wished it a silent good luck. As I uploaded the video to my Instagram with the caption ‘They’re free!’ and watched the mouse get lost behind stalks of green and fade from view, my doubts vanished. The harvest mice were home. “

The door to their soft release tank (with familiar food, water and shelter) is open, and they are free to be wild again…

Heather Ryce

Animal Keeper and Education Officer

Calderglen Zoo

(All photo credits to Council ranger James Morton, who accompanied us on this release alongside fellow ranger Jon Staples to whom we are grateful for collaborating on this project)

Using Telephoto Lenses

Nigel using his telephoto lens in the New Forest

Telephoto lenses have long reaches and are great to ‘bring the subject closer’ to achieve detailed, frame-filling photographs. They can be tricky to use and there’s a huge range of lenses available. Here are six tips and hints to get the best out of your lenses.


Prime lenses – these are a fixed focal length and for wildlife 300mm to 500mm or longer work very well. They are fast (have wide apertures) and sharp (can resolve fine detail). They can also be very expensive and heavy.


Zoom lenses – these have the flexibility of getting a frame-filling shot or a wider composition that shows the subject in its habitat and can be particularly useful for when the subject moves nearer or further from the camera such as birds in flight. Typical zoom ranges are 70-200mm, 100-400mm and 150-600mm. Many have a variable aperture through their zoom range: my 100-400mm lens has an aperture of f4.5 at the 100mm end and f5.6 at the 400mm end. Some zooms have a constant aperture throughout their zoom range but these are more expensive than the more affordable variable aperture lenses. The image quality can be almost as good as a prime lens –  you might be hard pushed to tell the difference and they are lighter.


Teleconverters – teleconverters or extenders go between the camera and the lens to multiply the focal length by, typically, 1.4x or 2x. Other magnifications are available but these are the most common. They don’t add much weight and are reasonably small and are an affordable way to make your lenses more flexible. They can work very well with prime lenses and with high quality zooms but the image can be degraded a little. I use a  1.4x with my 100-400mm zoom with some success but the 2x can make the image too soft. Not all lenses are compatible with them so check before you buy. The downside to using them is a loss of light and a slower auto focus. A  1.4x teleconverter reduces the light falling on the sensor by 1 stop and 2 stops with a 2x. If you are shooting at f5.6 that will become f8 with a 1.4x and f11 with a 2x. Beware that some cameras may not auto focus beyond f8.


Support the lens and camera – Some telephoto prime lenses can be hand-held and most zoom lenses are light enough to do without a tripod. When using a big, heavy lens, especially at lower shutter speeds, a tripod is all but essential. Choose a high-quality tripod that will easily cope with a heavy payload of camera and lens. A flimsy tripod will vibrate and wobble. You will also need a tripod head which sits on top of the three legs and into which the camera/lens is mounted. Gimbal heads are great as are ballheads. I have recently ‘converted’ from a gimbal to ballhead. When properly set up the camera/lens is balanced on the tripod and seems ‘weightless’ in use. Long telephoto lenses usually come with a foot mounted on a collar that fits around the lens. It is this that is mounted in the tripod head rather than the camera so as to protect the camera’s lens mount. Consider using a monopod. This can be easier and quicker to use than a tripod – it is lighter and usually does not have a dedicated head. I mount a camera/lens directly to a monopod. 


Steady as you go – telephoto lenses amplify small camera movements as well as subject movement so it is essential to employ good technique when taking the picture. If hand-holding support the lens with your left hand and tuck your elbows against your body and ‘tighten up’. Take a deep breath and hold it – this stops your chest moving and helps keep the camera steady. Squeeze the shutter rather than stab at it. If using a tripod or monopod press the back of the camera against your face and drape your left arm over the lens to dampen any vibrations. Some tripod heads have a little hook on the underside. This can be used to hang your backpack to add more stability. I keep a small cloth bag which I fill with rocks, clods of earth or half-bricks etc. Hanging a weight in this way really helps to dampen vibrations. I often use spikes on the end of the tripod legs when on soft ground in a wood or meadow rather than the standard rubber feet. A fast shutter speed is essential to freeze action and to overcome camera movement. As a rule of thumb use the lens focal length to determine the slowest shutter speed to use: 1/300th second with a 300mm lens and 1/500th second with a 500mm lens etc. It generally needs to be faster than this to freeze wing beats: 1/2500th second is a good starting point. Image stabilisation should be used, too. This can be incorporated in the lens or the camera body. It’s a high-tech system that either shifts lens elements or the actual camera sensor to help compensate for small accidental camera/lens movements. It will not compensate for subject movements.


Calibrate for pin-sharp accuracy – telephoto lenses and wide apertures make for a wafer-thin depth of field so it is essential that the focus is where you want it to be. Slight variations in manufacture of the lens and camera can result in a lens focussing a little in front or behind where you expect. For instance, if a bird is sideways on and you focus on the eye but the folded wing is sharp and the eye is blurry the lens is focussing in front of where you expect and the auto focus needs adjusting. Mirrorless cameras don’t have this potential problem because they use the actual imaging sensor for focussing but DSLRs use a separate sensor dedicated to this important task. Most DSLRs have an AF calibration feature in their menus to correct for this. It’s straightforward but a little time-consuming. I use a special target to calibrate the auto focus. Essentially you focus on one particular point and then see how far off your focus might be and make the appropriate adjustments. Here’s a link to the process, and you can use a clearly marked ruler set at an angle instead of a special target, copy and paste the entire line into your browser:

Adjusting Focus With Datacolor Spyder LensCal (digital-photography-school.com)

There are lots of other resources on YouTube and the Web, too.


This is a basic guide to using telephoto lenses. If you have any questions just drop me a Facebook message via Ealing Wildlife Group and I’ll do my best to help.

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