13 July 2011 ~ 0 Comments

British Seals: How To Tell The Difference Between Common Seals And Grey Seals

British seals at Blakeney Point
Creative Commons License photo credit: Duncan~

Around our shore there are two commonly seen British seals – namely the Grey Seal and the Common Seal. While at first glance one seal may look very much like another when you know what you’re looking for these two species are actually surprisingly easy to tell apart.

Whilst factors such as colouration, size and habitat can all play a part in correctly identifying seals there is one tip that will let you tell the difference between Common Seals and Grey Seals easily and quickly.

If you’re in the right part of the country, such as Blakeney Point in Norfolk, you can often see seals hauled up out of the water, bathing in the sunshine to dry out their fur and generally having a good scratch.

But most siting of seals are of one or more of these mammals swimming along in the sea with just their head above the water as they keep an eye out for both predators and prey. Fortunately it’s the head that is the ideal identification tool when it comes to deciding whether what you just saw was a Common or Grey Seal meaning that it’s virtually impossible to see a seal in the UK without being able to tell what species it is.

Grey Seal

The grey seal has an elongated head often likened to that of a dog with a long, upturned snout giving it a slightly more predactory look. Take a look at the following photo to get a better idea of the general head shape of a grey seal:

Grey Seal
Creative Commons License photo credit: Szymon Nitka

Common Seal

The common seal (which incidentally isn’t as common as the grey seal these days!) has a shorter snout and generally a rounder, “cuter” face. It’s the type of face guaranteed to get an “aah!” from children when they see one while the grey seal, whilst attractive in it’s own right, is far less appealing to eye for many people. Here’s a photo of a common seal to illustrate the point:

Common seal
Creative Commons License photo credit: davharuk

Test Time!

So as you can see these two species have very different face/head shapes and can quite easily be told apart. You’ve read the descriptions and seen the pictures so here are a few more for you to test your newfound knowledge out on – answers at the end!

Seal Photo 1:

Juvenile Harbor Seal
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sequoia Hughes

Seal Photo 2:

Creative Commons License photo credit: kevinzim

Answers: picture number one is a common seal while picture number two is a grey seal. Did you get them right?!

06 July 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Where To See Adders

Creative Commons License photo credit: Danny Chapman

Adders (or vipers) are the UK’s only venomous snake and whilst quite a degree of fear still surrounds them from people who picture deadly cobras hiding in their garden these snakes are generally shy and retiring. Indeed if adders were easy to find then we wouldn’t need an article like this – we’d all be tripping over them and instead visitors to this site would be more likely to ask how to avoid adders 🙂

Like all reptiles, adders are fans of warm, dry weather where they can bask in the heat of the sun before hunting for prey. Cool, damp, grey weather tends not to suit them as well and they may well hide away out of view or – in the winter months – even aestivate to conserve vital energy.

Equally so, the warmer a snake gets the more active it becomes – and as it becomes more active so it also becomes faster moving and so harder to spot. The ideal situation to see adders is therefore early on in the morning of a warm, sunny day in summer. The early hours before the snakes get too active and before they get annoyed by dogs and their owners can be the best time so if you’re serious about seeing adders your best bet is to set your alarm and get up bright and early.

As for habitat, adders tend to prefer dry environments such as heathland and gorse-filled grassland. My latest siting of an adder was one hiding just under a gorse bush up ontop of Cissbury Ring in Sussex a short while ago.

Like most snakes, Adders are very sensitive to vibrations through the ground and so it is best to walk as lightly as possible if you’d like to see them – stomping around in heavy walking boots won’t do you any favours – and I prefer to walk slowly and deliberately in flexible trainers so I step as lightly as possible on the ground.

When seen in photographs adders appear to be quite obvious snakes with a background colour varying from olive green through brown to the common silver or grey over-laced with a dark black zigzag pattern down it’s back. However in the wild these markings can make it surprisingly difficult to see and in the right habitat on the right day you may well pass numerous specimens without even realizing it.

While adders can and do climb, they are most often seen on the ground and in the spring time males can sometimes be seen “fighting” for mates as they stand up high and attempt to “wrestle” other males to the ground.

The other British snakes are the smooth snake and the grass snake. Smooth snakes are now very rare indeed so it is highly unlikely you will encounter one while grass snakes tend to prefer damper habitats such as those with ponds and streams.

Consequently a useful tip for getting an idea of whether there are adders in your local area is to keep an eye out for shed skins in the types of habitats mentioned as these will almost certainly belong to an adder and show some recent activity. To slough a skin an adder will normally rub against a rough object such as an old tree stump or sharp bush so keeping your eyes peeled for these signs can be a good indicator that you are searching in the right area.

Have you seen an adder recently? If so please leave a comment below to let us know when, where and how – we’d love to hear from you!

26 February 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Celestron 52250 Spotting Scope Review

Celestron 52250 reviewWhilst I appreciate the benefits of spotting scopes I have generally shied away from them because whilst I enjoy watching wildlife close up seeing serious birders carting around heavy and bulky scopes through the countryside just doesn’t look like much fun to me so instead I have generally relied on a decent pair of binoculars for getting “up close and personal” with nature.

However on a recent trip to Costa Rica I got chatting to a guide we hired who swears by his scope and having had the opportunity to try his out I now find myself something of a convert quite simply due to the ability to get far closer to wildlife than is possible with plain old binoculars.

Furthermore he was using a Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima zoom spotting scope which seems to me to cover all the bases in that it is excellent value for money, produces high quality images even over long distances yet is compact enough not to be cumbersome. I thought after my own experiences with this scope that a detailed Celestron 52250 review might come in useful for other wildlife fanatics considering purchasing a new scope.

Bright Images

Most popular spotting scopes seem to have a lens of around 60mm while the Celestron 55250 spotting scope uses an 80mm lens. While this may not sound too exciting at face value this means that the 55250 lets in more light than most competing scopes. The increased light not only means brighter images for you – making viewing wildlife through the scope more pleasant – but it also means a sharper, crisper image so you can see much more detail in the images you observe. For a nature fan like me this helps greatly in identifying birds even from some distance away where the differences between two species can be tiny.

Refracting Scope Design

The Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima zoom spotting scope is a refracting scope which means it does not use internal mirrors to reflect the image around the inside of the scope. This classic design generally means a clearer image because of the lack of reflection but also means a sturdier, more reliable construction. Typically the only downside of refracting scopes (which are generally considered the best type of scope) is the cost involved because the lenses need to be that much more accurate. Fortunately the Celestron 52250 manages to accomplish this without breaking the bank.

Achromatic Lenses

As the magnification of a spotting scope goes up, the light passing through the lenses typically lead to discoloration. This is due primarily to the way light is split as it passes through the lenses and so can result in you observing unnatural colors. Clearly when identifying wildlife accurate color representation is important and this is where the technology of achromatic lenses come in which are specifically designed to provide a more natural color representation for you.

Zoom Lens

The Celestron 52250 benefits from a zoom lens which will take you from 20x magnification right up to 60x. While it is a simple fact of life that the quality of the image will drop slightly at higher magnifications it is useful to have a way to quickly and easily zoom in on an animal to see additional detail or behavior. The simple, reasonably-sized control of the zoom lens means you can keep your eye on whatever you are watching whilst zooming in rather than having to take your eye away from the lens to zoom in, only to find you’ve lost sight of whatever it was you were looking at.

Ease Of Use

The Celestron 55250 spotting scope is not designed as a top-of-the-range scope which can cost several thousand dollars but rather a mid-range scope suitable for natural history fans and so on and it has therefore been designed specifically for ease of use. The zoom lens already mentioned helps with this, as does the built-in “site tube” for quickly picking up what you’re looking for before you zero in with the zoom lens.

The 55250 has a rubber eye cup so it can be used safely by spectacle-wearers like me as well as those with perfect eye-sight and it is also possible to mount a digital camera using the “t” fitting to enable you to take stunning wildlife photos from a considerable distance away.

Lightweight Construction For More Practical Use

As mentioned, I don’t want to lug around a scope that weighs as much as I do as it would simply spoil my enjoyment of a country walk but many of the other Celestron 55250 reviews I have read, as well as my own experiences, suggest that while this is a high quality scope with a good build quality it is neither too large (it measures roughly 20 inches long by 6 inches by 7 inches) to carry around over extended periods of time nor too heavy to make your shoulder ache so seems like the perfect compromise between power and practicality.

Sturdy Design Capable To Taking Knocks In The Field

Even the best spotting scopes will be of little use if they are going to break with normal use but the Celestron 55250 seems to be a sturdy piece of kit capable to taking normal use in it’s stride.

Additional benefits to keep your scope in top condition include the carry case (which comes included as standard) which will not only protect your scope from knocks but can be also left on the scope while it is being used to add further protection and also to speed up use. If you see some wildlife in the distance the last thing you want to do is spend five minutes getting your scope out of it’s case so it’s ready to use only to find that the animal has gone.

Lastly the 55250 has waterproof casing can can be safely used in the rain without risk of damage or fogging so this really is a rugged and very practical piece of kit.

Lifetime Warranty

To back up my comments about the build quality of the 55250 this scope also comes with a lifetime warranty for peace of mind.

What Others Are Saying

The Celestron 55250 spotting scope is tremendously popular due to it’s high quality image, practical design and very reasonable cost so there are plenty of Celestron 55250 reviews online for those who care to look but here are a few comments I have gathered during my own research:

“I was able to identify and see all colors of a kestrel nearly a quarter mile away!”

“For this price range the Celestron 52250 spotting scope was the best value. After purchasing this product from Amazon.com I couldn’t be happier. I’ve found the quality of the image at all magnifications to be outstanding with no distortion even at the edge of the field of view.”

“Celestron has always made good quality/value scopes, and this one is no exception. You’ll love the extra brightness that the larger diameter objective lens gives you, and the zoom eyepiece is about as good as you’ll find. Once focused, images are tack-sharp. For the money, this scope is hard to beat for its excellent build quality and good overall optical performance.”

“It is lightweight and its construction is rugged enough to handle my birding adventures through the bush. The focus and zoom are very simple, user-friendly, and easy to do in the field.”

How Much You Should Expect To Pay

The list price of this spotting scope is currently $298.95 though there are significant differences between what different retailers are currently charging for this model. Due to it’s popularity and reasonable cost there is a reasonable amount of competition between retailers to try and offer the best price and it is possible to shop around online and find some real bargains.

It seems at the time of writing that Amazon has the best deal where they are currently offering it for roughly half the list price and offering free delivery.

Complaints About The Celestron 52250 Spotting Scope?

The 55250 has almost total approval from everyone who has used it and has numerous glowing reviews. The only slight point directed at it from time to time is that the image quality isn’t quite as high as in some of the top range scopes however even these critics seem to agree that for the average user the image quality of the 52250 is more than acceptable and for the price you won’t find anything better.

Where Can You Read More Reviews Of The Celestron 52250?

A quick search in Google will turn up a range of Celestron 52250 spotting scope reviews however possibly the best place to read reviews from people who actually use this scope is on Amazon. Click here to read more reviews.

Where Can You Buy A 52250?

The Celestron 52250 scope is available from a wide range of retailers both online and offline but at present it seems like the best deal is on Amazon thanks to their low price, excellent customer service and free delivery. Click here to visit Amazon now.

23 February 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Pentax 62216 Papilio Review

Pentax 62216 Papilio reviewAs a passionate “bug hunter” who spends considerable time during the better months of the year out looking for insects to observe I have often thought that a pair of binoculars capable of a very close focus would be useful.

While spiders and so on can often be caught and observed under a magnifying glass, try doing that to a dragonfly and I think you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Wondering about my need recently I became rather excited about the Pentax 62216 Papilio 8.5×21 porro prism binocular when I saw comments like this:

“I couldn’t stop looking at the grains of wood, plants, bugs, etc. I put my face right up to some berries that were blue on cedar trees with my naked eye, then backed up a bit to see the same ones with the Pentax, and the extra detail that is seen is amazing with such a 3-D affect to boot.”

With this in mind, and with the potential interest from other nature fanatics for a small, lightweight yet sturdy pair of binoculars that can be used equally for long-distance observations or for looking at insects and flowers close-up in the field I thought that a Pentax 62216 Papilio review would be of use on this site.

Fully Coated Lenses

Pentax 62216 binoculars come as standard with fully coated optical lenses designed with two main functions in mind. Firstly the coating cuts down on glare from the sun giving you a superior view of whatever you are observing and secondly the coating reduces the amount of UV light which enters the binoculars.

This polarizing element is useful because UV light has been shown to damage the human eye and some lenses will strengthen this light which means extended use can be bad for your eyesight. The coating used for the lenses of the Pentax 62216 Papilio are specially treated to cut down the harmful UV light found in normal sunlight without having a detrimental effect on your viewing pleasure.

Ideal Magnification For The Field

In terms of binoculars many people mistakenly believe that the higher magnification the better however the magnification of a pair of binoculars needs to be taken in context. The Pentax 62216 Papilio offers a magnification of 8.5 times life size which is perfect for standard use – and in the particular case of the 66216 of objects reasonably close-up such as birds on a feeder, insects or flowers.

Increase the magnification too much further and you will find that every little movement of your hands will cause so much shake that the binoculars are unusable without a tripod. Whilst this isn’t the end of the world – and some people are happy to lug a tripod around all day – for many people being “tripod-free” makes the experience of using the Pentax 62216 far superior.

As a little sidenote, should you naturally have shaky hands the 66216 does infact have a tripod hole should you want to use them with one though for most people this will be unnecessary.

Convergent Lens Optical System Engineering

One of the biggest reasons that most binoculars cannot focus as closely as the Pentax 62216 Papilio is that the lenses are too far apart. Typically a pair of binoculars is like having two telescopes attached to one another in the middle and this means that the lenses need to be a similar distance apart as your eyes thus limiting how closely they can focus.

The Pentax 62216 however goes about this in a different way using technology that Pentax call Convergent Lens Optical System Engineering (or CLOSE for short) which is capable of moving the lenses closer together while still allowing a comfortable viewing experience for you. Users report being able to focus perfectly on objects just 20 inches or so away from the binoculars which means they are unlike anything else on the market.

Porro Prism Technology

As mentioned many pairs of binoculars are like two telescopes attached to one another but the Pentax 62216 instead uses porro prism technology. The Pentax 62216 uses a series of prisms inside the body of the binoculars to bend and refract the image so that the binoculars can be made to a more pocket-sized dimension than would be possible without the use of this technology. This means you still get a great viewing experience with the 62216 but have a pair of binoculars that are not so large as to become cumbersome when out in the field.

Practical Size And Weight

Big, powerful binoculars certainly have their place but when it comes to a nature walk it can also be nice to be accompanied by a sturdy yet less cumbersome pair of bins and this is where the Pentax 62216 Papilio come in so handy.

By using porro prism technology the 62216 come in at a very portable 4.6 x 4.3 x 2.2 inches in size and weigh in at roughly 2 lbs so they can be carried all day long around the neck, on your belt or in pocket without being uncomfortable. I find this useful in a pair of binoculars because you then have no excuse not to take them with you every time you go out for a walk.

Lifetime Warranty

The impressive build quality of the Pentax 62216 Papilio mean that for your peace of mind Pentax offer this pair of binoculars with a lifetime warranty as standard so you can be certain you are purchasing a rugged and reliable pair of binoculars.

Accessories Included

The Pentax 62216 comes complete with lens covers, a strap and a padded bag to keep your binoculars in top condition.

What Others Are Saying

Pentax 62216 Papilio binoculars are tremendously popular because of their small size, high quality image and also, let’s be honest, because there really are no competitors on the market that measure up to them so there are lots of Pentax 62216 Papilio reviews that can be found on the internet and the birding press but here are just a few that I found myself during my research:

“Being able to focus to 20 inches or so allows me to watch insects and spiders with as much detail as if my eye were just a couple inches from the object. The view is gorgeous.”

“This binocular is a wonderful instrument! Its close-focusing ability is nothing short of astonishing. Carrying one of these in the field is like having a long-distance dissecting microscope in your pocket. It was also easy to get a good image of distant objects; for example, to observe features on the mountain, or to identify birds in the trees at a range of roughly 50 meters. I certainly feel that it offers excellent value for the money.”

“When you consider the price it’s a no brainer.”

“Truly amazing. I couldn’t stop looking at the grains of wood, plants, bugs, etc.”

“It feels solid and very light.”

How Much You Should Expect To Pay

The list price of the Pentax 66216 is at the time of writing $200 although bargains can be found online with a little research. Amazon currently has the best deal I have found where they are available for less than $120 offering a saving of over $80 off the list price.

Complaints About The Pentax 62216 Papilio?

Of all the Pentax 62216 reviews I have read I have struggled to find any negative feedback from owners of these binoculars. While it seems strange to say every user seems to fall in love with the Papilio and the feedback on Amazon from previous customers is testament to this.

Where Can You Read More Reviews Of The Pentax 62216 Papilio?

A quick search in Google will turn up a range of Pentax 62216 Papilio reviews however possibly the best place to read reviews from people who actually use this scope is on Amazon. Click here to read more reviews.

Where Can You Buy The Pentax 62216?

The Pentax 66216 is available from a wide range of retailers both online and offline but at present it seems like the best deal is on Amazon thanks to their low price, excellent customer service and free delivery. Click here to visit Amazon now.

20 February 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Celestron 44104 Microscope Review

Celestron 44104 reviewI have recently been looking around for a good quality microscope to help with a range of my nature studies and as part of this process I have been doing a tremendous amount of research from reading online reviews to testing out microscopes in person to try and find the perfect scope.

To this end I thought it might prove useful to you if I provided a Celestron 44104 microscope review as this is the microscope I have finally settled on at least in part because it seems that while the Celestron 44104 microscope was originally launched in 2003 it is still regarded as one of the best light microscopes around.

Consequently if you are currently considering purchasing a microscope then you could do a lot worse than to consider the 500x Power Advanced Biological Microscope. Here’s why…

Sturdy Construction

The most noticeable element of the Celestron 44104 at first glance is it’s solid and sturdy construction which should mean it has a long life. Also, should you be looking for a microscope as a gift for a child this means the 44104 should cope with a few knocks unlike many of the more cheaply-constructed microscopes currently on the market. Indeed, the Celestron 44104 is made entirely from metal which gives it a pleasant “professional” feel and I am sure I will have mine for many years to come.

High Range Of Magnifications

When it comes to biological microscopes there are a huge range of different magnifications which may prove of interest. For example one day I might want to look at skin cells and the next I might want to view the barbs of a feather close-up and these two different mediums mean that a decent light microscope really needs a good range of magnifications if you are not going to get frustrated with it. Quite simply it needs to have a diverse range of magnifications if you are going to get maximum use from it.

Fortunately this is one area where the Celestron 44104 wins hands-down over most of the other competing microscopes currently on the market. The 44104 has has two different eye-pieces – a 10x and a 12.5x magnification. In addition it comes with three different objective lenses of 4x, 10x and 40x magnification so when used in combination you have a range of between 40 times and 500 times magnification meaning it can deal with virtually any task you throw at it with ease.

Ease Of Use

The eyepiece of this microscope can move through a 60′ angle so that it is comfortable to look through no matter how tall you are or high high the surface on which you place the microscope so this enables long-term use without the risk of any discomfort to your neck from craning over an immovable eyepiece.

The “stage” onto which you place your microscope slides is fully movable both left-and-right and up-and-down thanks to two small knobs which can be gently twisted to move the slide around. This means you can get the best possible look at your slide without having to manually try and slide it around and this too makes for ease of use.

Many of the other user Celestron 44104 reviews I found backed this up with many other owners of this microscope mentioning how simple and enjoyable it is to use. To give just one example, a reviewer called J. Renne called the 44104 “good quality and easy to use” – I couldn’t agree more.

Quality Of Image

The most important factor of all when choosing a light microscope is really how good the image you’re going to see is. After all it doesn’t matter how much you pay for a microscope or how solidly it’s built if you on’t see fuzzy images when looking at specimens.

Celestron is of course a specialist in making high-quality optical equipment such as telescopes for astronomers so they have a lot of experience in this department and the 44104 microscope doesn’t disappoint.

The Celestron 44104 comes with fully-coated glass optics for a high quality and glare-free image and also offers a variable iris diaphragm to allow you to control the amount of light shone onto your slide enabling you to see every detail of the image you’re looking at. The 44104 also comes with a blue filter which can be useful when using low light intensities as it helps to produce a more natural-looking image and add more depth to what you can see. It also comes with five pre-prepared slides to set you going and these first samples are an excellent way to test out the controls of your microscope to get a proper grasp of just how powerful this piece of kit is.

In terms of a light source – essential for a light microscope – the 44104 has two options. It comes with both a strong mirror to reflect ambient light onto your slides and with an electric bulb to use in lower light meaning that you should be able to easily find the ideal intensity to view your slides in the detail they deserve.

Lastly in this Celestron 44104 review it is worth mentioning that this microscope has two dials for focus – both a coarse focus (to quickly get your slide into focus) and a fine focus (for gently zooming in and out and thus observing extra detail you might otherwise have missed) and many users have reported excellent results from the use of this “dual focus” element.

What Others Are Saying

This is a very popular microscope – and for good reason – so there are a number of Celestron 44104 reviews around however below are just a few comments I found during my own recent research:

“After returning several different styles of Celestron microscopes the Celestron 44104 500x Power Advanced Biological Microscope is a keeper. High quality and easy to use.”

“Good quality and easy to use… Will last forever.”

“It’s great value for the price.”

“This is a nice, sold microscope not a cheap toy.”

“The price is right and the images are of good quality.”

Another good source of information on the 44104 is Celestron’s own user manual for the microscope which you can view online for free at http://www.celestron.com/c3/images/files/downloads/1215621058_44100etcmanualm.pdf

How Much You Should Expect To Pay

A decent light microscope is of course never going to be a cheap investment but the Celestron 44104 is very reasonably priced for what you get. The current list price is just under $240 though bargains may be found online. Personally the best price I have found is at Amazon which, at the time of writing, is charging roughly half the list price.

Complaints About The Celestron 44104 Microscope?

Feedback on the 44104 is almost totally positive however the only small niggle that a few buyers have mentioned is that the bulb provided as a light source can get quite hot at times. Fortunately it seems Celestron have responded to this and the current model now comes with an LED light rather than an old-fashioned bulb which doesn’t get hot during extended use.

Where Can You Read More Reviews Of The Celestron 44104 Microscope?

A quick search in Google will turn up a range of extra Celestron 44104 reviews however possibly the best place to read reviews from people who actually use this microscope is on Amazon. Click here to read more reviews.

Where Can You Buy A Celestron 44104 Microscope?

The 44104 is available from a wide range of retailers both online and offline though possibly the best place at present to buy one is through Amazon due to their unbeatable price and free shipping. Click here to visit Amazon now.

18 October 2010 ~ 0 Comments


Common Vetch
Creative Commons License photo credit: Dawn Endico

Of all the British wild flowers, Vetch is one of the easiest to identify. Whilst there are numerous species within the UK, each slightly different, the general form of all the British Vetches is similar allowing simple identification.

And once you have spotted a vetch, 90% of the job is done. It’s then just a matter of sitting down with your wild flower book to identify it down to species level.

Vetches are common and wide spread wild plants which can be found in many different habitats around the country. They are arguably most common in wild flower meadows and ungrazed grassland though it is possible to see them even in some woodlands given enough light.

There are two main charateristics of Vetch. They are the flowers – which look almost like Birds Foot Trefoil in shape – and the leaves which are fine, pinnate leaves looking almost like a Sensitive Mimosa.

Below are photos of both the leaves and flowers of the Common Vetch so you know roughly what to look for when you’re next out on a nature walk. If you find any, why not leave me a comment here and tell me what species you found and in what habitat?


05 September 2010 ~ 0 Comments

The Nature Photography Cookbook Review

The Nature Photography Cookbook

Esther Beaton is an Australia-based professional nature photographer with 25 years of experience and in The Nature Photography Cookbook the author aims to help those of us (including me) who are keen to take better wildlife photos to do just that.

This attractively produced ebook contains an impressive 153 pages of detailed yet easy-to-follow instructions to help you learn how to take pictures you can be proud of.

Whilst this ebook isn’t specifically designed for total newbies, anyone who has a little experience of taking wildlife photos (no matter how badly!) can benefit from Esther’s clear instructions.

Unlike the majority of nature photography books which focus primarily on technical aspects and contain almost too much information for the beginner to intermediate level of photographer, Esther has applied a “cookbook” style to this guide which really makes it very simple and clear to use, whilst being easy to dip into and use as a reference guide.

The Nature Photography Cookbook includes 60 “recipes” – or different suggestions for taking better wildlife photographs. Each one is presented in a very clear manner including information on subject or location, time of day or desirable weather and lastly the equipment you will need (nothing expensive is required).

Each recipe then includes detailed, step-by-step instruction on what to do in order to achieve the effect desired including advice on using your preview screen if you are using a digital camera and making minor adjustments to get the perfect photo. It should be mentioned though that these techniques are not confined to digital photographers and most if not all will work just as well for good old-fashioned film cameras.

Each recipe ends with a sample photograph showing the effect you are trying to capture together with an analysis of why the particular example works and I found it interesting to not only admire Esthers photographs but this small summary at the end of each chapter was also very useful for “getting my eye in” and developing a deeper understanding of what the technique discussed is trying to accomplish.

Esther has carefully arranged each of the 60 odd recipes in order of difficulty so that each technique builds on what you learned in the last. This greatly cuts down on the learning curve, allows one to follow a natural progression through the tuition and, for me at least, made the learning experience far easier and more enjoyable.

Any technical terms used in the book that the beginner may not be familiar with are carefully explained in detail in the glossary at the end of the book and indeed individual words are linked to the glossary throughout the book so you need only click the word and you will be taken straight to the exact definition before you continue reading which makes this a very accessible and user-friendly way to get started on improving your nature photography.

With all the details contained in the 150+ pages of the book it’s only fair that I end this Nature Photography Cookbook review with a complete rundown of the various chapter titles to “tickle your tastebuds” and give you a better idea of the topics you can look forward to discovering from it or you can click here to visit Esther’s site and find out more about the ebook

1) Change Your Viewpoint – Look Down
2) The Effect Of Fog
3) Flower Close Up
4) Make A Diagonal Composition
5) Using Midday Sun
6) Shoot Close Up To Tell A Story
7) Good Exposure With Flash
8) Using Fog For Easy Atmosphere
9) Making Captive Birds Look Wild
10) Making Captive Mammals Look Wild
11) Waiting For The Action
12) Eliminating Busy Backgrounds
13) Can’t Get Close? Use Composition
14) Balancing The Composition
15) At The Porpoise Pool
16) Adding Foreground Interest
17) Using Elements Of A Scene
18) How To Create Silhouettes
19) Simple Backlighting
20) Seascapes At Dawn
21) Silky Water
22) Composing Reflections
23) Harmonious Colors
24) Wildflowers In Meadow Close Up
25) Wildflowers In Meadow Landscape
26) Composing With Clouds
27) Perennially Good Subjects
28) Change Your Viewpoint – Look Up
29) Forest Landscape Vertical Composition
30) Forest Landscape Horizontal Composition
31) Vanishing Hills
32) Complementary Colors
33) Backlit Macro Shot
34) Wide Angle To Create Vanishing Point
35) Radiating Lines To Overcome Lack Of Color
36) Deliberate Over-Exposure
37) Fill-Flash And Macro – Motionless Subject
38) Fill-Flash And Macro – Moving Subject
39) Moving The Subject
40) Stalking Animals In The Wild
41) Panning Over Water With Reflections
42) Basic Fill Flash For Portraits
43) Pre-Set Controls To Shoot Fast
44) Trompe L’oeil – Trick Of The Eye
45) Long Exposure After Sunset
46) Background Halo To Vignette Subject
47) Integrating A Surprise Element
48) Incorporating Shadows As Patterns
49) Using White Balance To Add Missing Color
50) Using Wide Angle Lens To Add Full Depth Of Field
51) Using Fisheye To Create Pattern
52) Using Graduated Filter In Dull Light
53) Depth Of Field With A Telephoto Lens
54) Wide Angle Lens Classic Composition
55) Candid Portrait Daring Composition
56) Framing With Silhouetted Branches
57) Posed Three-Quarter Portrait
58) Posed Head-And-Shoulders Portrait
59) Using Sun To Create Hotspot Vignette
60) Experiment And Have Fun!

Click here to visit the official Nature Photography Cookbook website for complete details on this impressive guide.

01 September 2010 ~ 0 Comments

The Difference Between Grasshoppers And Crickets

Piccola & Mostruosa
Creative Commons License photo credit: Luca 4891

One of the perennial problems of naturalists is how to tell the difference between crickets and grasshoppers. Whilst superficially these two groups of insects seem almost identical with their long back legs, ability to jump long distances and habitat preferences when you actually “get your eye in” these two groups can be surprisingly easy to tell apart.

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between grasshoppers and crickets then you’re about to discover a few simple ways that will let you tell them apart with ease.


Possibly the quickest and easiest way to tell a grasshopper from a cricket is by taking a look at the antennae. In grasshoppers these tend to be short and sticking out infront of the head, whilst in crickets these are normally very long indeed – sometimes as long as the insect – and are often swept back along the body though they may be waved about in the air.

Body Shape

Grasshoppers typically have a far longer, thinner, more “aerodynamic” body shape to crickets, which are typically far more rounded in shape.

Time Of Day

When it comes to the chirping song of these two similar groups of insects they will normally sing at different times of day. You’re most likely to hear grasshoppers calling during the day while crickets are the likely culprit if you hear the noise later on in the day and during the evening.


Whilst grasshoppers and crickets both seem to like wild, grassy areas there are often subtle differences between their habitat choice. Grasshoppers favour short, tussocky grassland where they can climb to the top to sun themselves while I tend to find crickets far more often in longer grass or even on the leaves of bushes and trees where grasshoppers are seldom seen.

Cricket Photo

Notice the longer antennae and shorter, rounder-looking body.

hop, hop, hop !
Creative Commons License photo credit: OliBac

Grasshopper Photo

Notice the short antennae and relatively long, thin body of the grasshopper.

Making a difference...
Creative Commons License photo credit: wolfpix

30 August 2010 ~ 0 Comments

A List Of Native British Reptiles

 Natrix natrix
Creative Commons License photo credit: anabis

Britain is home to an amazing six species of native reptile which for a climate like ours never ceases to amaze me. Note that one can also see the Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis) on the isle of Jersey though it appears to be absent from the rest of the UK.

The general list of British reptiles is:

– The Common (or Viviparous) Lizard (Lacerta vivipara)
– The Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) – now very scarce
– The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)
– The Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)
– The Adder (or Viper) (Vipera berus)
– The Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) – also sadly very rarely seen these days

22 August 2010 ~ 2 Comments

How To Tell The Difference Between Frogs And Toads

 this toad's for you . . .
Creative Commons License photo credit: bionicteaching

In the UK there are a number of different species of frogs and toads though of course the most regularly seen are the Common Frog and the Common Toad. Even these two species are often identified incorrectly so I thought it might be useful today to explain some simple ways to be able to distinguish between frogs and toads.

Generally speaking the Common Frog is more likely to have a more pointed face than the Common Toad which tends to have a rounder and blunter face. Frogs also prefer to hop while toads will generally walk unless they are surprised and want to make a quick escape.

The skin can also help you tell the difference between the two species; the frogs skin is generally smooth and shiny-looking while that of the toad is generally warty and often has a matt-effect look to it.

The toad has a poison gland behind the eye which looks like a large swelling and this is absent in the frog.

Lastly in the breeding season the eggs of these two species look very different. Whilst the frog lays it’s frogspawn in a large jelly-like mass, the toadspawn is laid in long, thin strands rather than one large mass.

There are, of course, just as many similarities as their are differences. They both breed in the water. They will both jump if surprised or scared. They generally eat similar prey. They will often be found away from water when out of the breeding season (though they still like moist areas such as hiding under rocks or under thick plant cover).

Even the colours of these two species can be so variable that saying that toads are brown and frogs are green isn’t entirely correct and can’t really be used for identification purposes.

Reread the above points for telling Common Frogs from Common Toads then take a look at the following photos to “get your eye in” on the subtle differences between the two species. Then as a final test, see if you can work out whether the child in the phot at the top is holding a frog or a toad…

Common Toad photos:

Bufo bufo bufo (Hauts-de-Seine 92)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Cheloran ©

Creative Commons License photo credit: timitalia

Common Frog photos:

Rana temporaria ssp. (Pyrénées Orientales 66)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Cheloran ©

Rana temporaria ssp. (Pyrénées Orientales 66)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Cheloran ©

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