The BBC has an absolutely brilliant gallery of woodland wonders, from the Woodland Trust's recent photo competition, as judged by Simon King. Definitely worth a look.

Venus
As you may have heard, recently Jupiter has been passing by Venus in the night sky. Venus is generally quite easy to spot – it's by far the brightest thing in the night sky (apart from the moon, naturally) and Jupiter was working its way past it on the left, heading downwards day by day.

After my recent attempts to photograph the moon I got cocky and thought I'd give Venus a go. You can see the thrilling results above. Somehow I don't think Brian Cox will be beating a path to my door. Jupiter is out of shot to the left. If I'd tried to get that into the frame you wouldn't have been able to see anything!

WillowCatkins
I brought inside a few twigs pruned from a willow in the garden and put them in water. Within a couple of days they had burst forth, covered in pollen. What a spring-timey thing!

The photography merits a brief note. This picture is taken indoors with a compact camera up close in macro mode. But importantly it's using flash and this has resulted in my intended effect of losing the background to blackness – even though my beige, flowery (but tastefully so) curtains are a couple of metres behind. Compared to the extremely brighly lit catkins the camera sees the curtains as near enough black and I get this wonderfully stark study.

MegawattMoonlight
I looked up at the brilliant full moon tonight and it reminded me of a Frank Zappa lyric from Be in my Video. As I occasionally do, I thought I'd frustrate myself by trying to take a picture of that moon. Tripod, Nikon D300, Nikon 400mm lens and this is the best I can do (with a little boost to contrast in post-processing). It looks OK in low-res here, but the lack of sharpness really bugs me. However it seems to be very difficult to do any better, presumably because there's too much turbulent, dusty atmosphere between me and it.

It's worth pointing out that the best result (above) was actually obtained by abandoning full manual, mirror-up, delayed exposure on tripod, in favour of automatic everything handheld braced against the window-frame!

Starlings
Thanks to Jenny for sending in this wonderful picture of Starlings flocking above Gretna Green motorway service station in late November. Apparently starlings do impressions – of a dolphin in this case.

I've never seen a truly massive flock of starlings doing their thing but I understand the noise is also quite something. More pictures of their swooping, wheeling forms via Google.

AutumnVer

A couple of pleasant and typically autumnal scenes for you, in case the darkening days are starting to get you down. Both of these are in UKNB's home town of St Albans, so if you're local you might recognise the first one at least.

AutumnMereMarginals


SquirrelAtWindow4

We have a neat bird feeder that attaches to the glass of our sliding doors which affords us close up views of blue tits and great tits for the main part. They seem entirely happy to be there just a few feet from you, though if you move much they dash off. This squirrel however is totally fearless and seems to understand how glass works – i.e. you can get as close as you like on the other side of it but you can't touch it.

This allows for some close-up squirrel photography, though reflections can be a bit of a problem, as can the dirty windows and lack of light on the side I'm photographing.

SquirrelAtWindow3
SquirrelAtWindow

BarnOwl
I'm not going to fool anybody that this is an owl in the wild – the tethers dangling from its legs give that away, but it's still quite challenging to get a decent shot at a falconry display. An uncluttered 'natural' background and good focus are quite tough to achieve, though probably easy with owls that with falcons swooping around and greater speeds (I've tried and failed). Set camera to continuous focus and a high shutter speed and try to track it accurately so the autofocus can do its best. Still a bit of a hit and miss affair mind you!

This particular Barn owl is at Willows Farm Village in Hertfordshire, which is incidentally a good fun day out for young children! They have 46 birds in their falconry centre.

I have been lucky enough to see Barn owls in the wild too, flying in daylight at The Lost Gardens of Heligan and at dusk in Norfolk. Note that Barn owls don't go twit-twoo – that is in fact a call/response between female and male Tawny owls, though I heard a lot of that at night in Norfolk too, emanating from the woods.

BarnOwl2

BingPicture_NaturalWinner

I was lucky enough to be invited to a photography competition yesterday held in London. About 35 miscellaneous bloggers were challenged by Microsoft to go out for a few hours and come back with photos representing London as part of the Your Britain marketing effort.

I'm pleased to say that UKNB won in the nature section, with the image above. Not particularly naturey to be honest, but containing plenty of iconic ingredients of a British summer: striped deckchairs, wind, roses, grass and gardening.

There were some rules that made things just a little bit more challenging. Because the images were theoretically destined to be the background for bing.com for a day (though mine wasn't winningy enough to achieve that glorious honour) they had to be in landscape format; not include human faces; not include obvious commercial branding; generally suitable for use in that context.

ZoomBlurTree
Faced with low light and dusky conditions that make for blurry photos? Use it to your advantage and let the long exposure times become a creative asset!

By zooming in whilst taking this shot of a tree I think I've transformed an otherwise dull picture into something quite dramatic. You also wouldn't know that it was actually getting quite gloomy, being 8:42pm a few days ago. I actually set the aperture to f20 to make sure of a long enough exposure to get the effect I was after, which was half a second in this case, at ISO 800. In retrospect I should have knocked the ISO down to 200 and used a larger aperture to get the same result but with less noise.