Monthly Archives: February 2014

A photography lesson at Elvaston Castle

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I tried out my new lens earlier this week… I didn’t get on very well with it. I couldn’t get the darn thing to focus and without the manual to hand and about 6 child-free hours forthcoming there was little chance for me to figure it out.

So I booked a last minute photography lesson via Cream Photography Workshops. They squeezed me in today and I met my tutor, professional photographer David Severn, at Elvaston Castle. David and I had spoken on the phone and exchanged texts the day before and that morning so I already felt at ease with him and he had an idea of my situation and experience.

I’m already have a reasonable understanding of apertures, shutter speed, ISO and so on. I wanted a session to trouble shoot the issues I was having with my new lens and an auto focus function I couldn’t get right, as well understanding how and when to use some of the filters I got for Christmas.

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Not only did I get to cover all the things I was struggling with but we also covered a variety of other topics such as white balance, manual focus for my macro filters and using ISO to alter shutter speed in apertures. I also learned lots of the extra functions on my camera without the need to read a million page manual! The bad news was that the extra bit I had bought with the bigger lens to increase it’s magnification was the part causing the problem and I therefore can’t really use it for moving wildlife photos such as birds in flight. Never mind though, the lens is still pretty powerful without the extra bit and if I really get on with wildlife photography I may even splash out on a proper bad boy lens.

Elvaston Castle is a beautiful place and the kids had a great time with their cousins and grandparents there, it has a fantastic play area and interesting treasures to explore, a big hit as a family day out for sure. It’s not really my cup of tea for photography though… just not my style if you know what I mean. I did however find this wizened wooden owl and I like the macro of the lichen above!

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I’m feeling much more confident with my camera now and can’t wait to get cracking in America. The super friendly people at Sullivan County Visitors Association have sorted us out with activities and contacts in the Catskills and a week on Sunday we should be watching bald eagles soaring high above us amongst the snowy mountains at the North Eastern point of the Appalachian Plateau…

Learning to use binoculars at Attenborough Nature Reserve

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It was a proud day for Rob and I – taking our boys to Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham to teach them to use their binoculars and the basics of bird identification.

The last time we visited the reserve was before we got married and long before the children arrived. We used to go to Attenborough often as it is a particularly good reserve for wetland birds and was on our Nottinghamshire doorstep before we moved to Cornwall. We have missed the days of easy bird watching where you can just pick up your coat, binoculars and scope and head on out. Those of you with children will appreciate the mammoth task of simply getting three little ones out the door, let alone being prepared for quiet time in hides and long walks along muddy paths.

Keeping quiet is important and a major reason we haven’t taken them before now. It’s not easy for kids to keep quiet and other bird watchers don’t appreciate it if your kids scare all the birds away! Luckily we didn’t have Orla with us (she was at home with Grannie).

Learning to use binoculars is no easy feat for adults or children as it takes practice to continue to look at the desired bird/animal etc. whilst bringing your binoculars to your eyes. Scanning around with them is even harder. So we were pretty impressed with how easily they both picked it up. I had imagined more frustration for them trying to focus and keeping them still. Patrick successfully focused on a moor hen and identified it from the field guide by looking at the colour on it’s head, bill, legs, wings and tail. Alfie identified a coot. We also saw lovely tufted ducks (pictured above) and great crested grebes as well as cormorants, Egyptian geese, pochard and a redwing amongst plenty more.

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Alfie mastering his binoculars at Attenborough Nature Reserve

Although they did well and showed perseverance with the binoculars and prolonged interest in identification, they are just five and three years old and it did occur to us that our wildlife spotting and bird watching are going to be significantly limited to short bursts when we reach the states. An hour is about absolute tops… but that’s fine… we are a family and a team, and a team travels at the pace of it’s slowest member. We can work around the challenges by taking it in turns with one child each and other techniques for dividing and conquering. Mixing activities up helps too… Alfie found some big dog prints and tracked them along the path for a bit!

The visitor centre at Attenborough is really good too. In addition to a shop supplying all your birdwatching needs there is a children’s learning area which is engaging and interesting. The boys enjoyed the interactive activities and we bought activity sheets for them to do as well.

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Patrick at one with the geese… I swear he can converse with animals!

Wetland reserves like Attenborough are great places to ignite an interest in nature and wildlife as they are generally accessible with good paths and flat terrain and the birds there are so interesting. Wetland birds are great ones for amateurs to start with as they are all pretty distinctive and interesting looking, easy to spot on the water and a good size. The boys were both full of enthusiasm and chatter about the birds and binoculars on the way back to Derby.

Attenborough Nature Reserve is open daily from 7am until dusk and the visitor centre is open 9am-4pm daily. Parking is £1.50 donation for upkeep and there is good public transport links to the reserve.

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Black headed gull (in winter)

Geocaching… Setting off our travel bug

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Our lovely friends, Richard and Polly, bought us a geocache travel bug. Geo-what-insect? Some of you may be wondering…

Geocaching is like a giant international treasure hunt. You look up on the Groundspeak website for caches near you and then you set off and hunt them. Most (*but not all) are little boxes with trinkets that can be swapped and they are the ones that fit travel bugs too. Travel bugs get moved from cache to cache by geocachers. They often have missions to get to particular places or clock up a certain amount of miles. Ours is going to race us on a similar path around America and Canada and then we will set an itinerary around Europe and wherever we go onto next.

As we started in Cornwall we have brought it the first step ourselves to Wales. Its mission now is to get to London and then across to New York.

From New York it needs to see as much of America as possible including Washington DC, the Great Smoky Mountains, New Orleans, at least one canyon (ideally the Grand Canyon, Bryce or Kings Canyon) the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park and somewhere along the west coast before heading onto Canada. It needs to work it’s way back across Canada and back to London in about a year. We’ll see who does it first!

If you want to track our travel bug’s progress yourself you can use the code TB333G5

We’ve kept it simple just on a chain so it’s easy to get around and can fit in smaller caches. And so it reflects our “travel light” philosophy.

Having dropped it in a cache just off the M4 in Wales we picked up a travel bug from the cache there. This bug is called Mr Frogglesworth and his mission is simply to travel as much and as far as possible. Specifically he wants to hop across the pond to America which is rather convenient seeing as that is exactly where we are heading in 10 days time!

So we now have a little companion for the plane journey and we will aim to drop him in a cache somewhere outside New York City, probably in the Catskills.

If you enjoy exploring and treasure hunting then I’d highly recommend a bit of geocaching, particularly with the kids. It’s great for motivation on circular walks or around towns and for learning a bit about history and geology of areas.

Happy caching folks!

*not all geocaches are boxes, some are tiny weeny and just contain a tiny roll of paper to log your find. Others again are simply places where you get a photograph to log your visit online.

Here is Mr Frogglesworth:

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Our nomadic life begins…

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The house was sparklingly clean and our belongings pack away. Tearful good byes had been said to our best friends over a quick breakfast at theirs. Orla’s god father gave her a beautiful locket with Cornish quartz in and Hippie Jo came to join the waving off party…

Bodmin moor was glistening this morning with strange frozen hail which was covering the signs and backs of the tough moorland cattle.

Our hire car is comfortable and roomy… Roomy enough for all the mixed emotions filling it up. Mainly we are very excited. But there is a little sadness about the friends we will miss and our dog Ethel. And there are nerves… Naturally.

We are now officially home schooling our children and are basically living nomadic lives with just the few belongings we have with us… Which already includes wee soaked jeans when one of the boys missed the Travel John… Our boys do seem to wee with incredible frequency which doesn’t help with the already tricky car travel element of the adventure… They’ll get the hang of it though, they’ll have to!

As I write this we are going over the Severn Bridge into Wales for our first night away, staying with friends near Swansea. Tomorrow evening we push onto Derby.