Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: Photos of the Farne Island from by Lara Nouri

Last week I was involved in a Twitter debate over the fate of a family of wild beavers who were facing capture and a life in captivity. The conversation was started by ATM, a graffiti artist I wrote about a few weeks ago, and Lara Nouri, a nature photographer.

I stalked Lara’s profile which lead me to her Facebook page covered with amazing photos of sea birds. Despite our conflicting views over Twitter, I had found another lady who loves birds- hurrah!

Lara Nouri lives in Radcliffe-on-Trent, not too far outside of Nottingham and studies MSc Biological Photography and Imaging at the University of Nottingham. It’s an all-encompassing course on wildlife photography, film-making, and some graphic design.

Check out Lara’s beautiful images of birds on the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland.

I caught up with Laura to find out more about her and her work 

Why did you choose to study  MSc Biological Photography and Imaging?

I knew I wanted to do this Master’s degree before I’d even chosen what undergraduate degree to do! I had to produce a whole magazine for one module, which was based on wildlife – very much like the BBC Wildlife magazine. The effort I had to put in was incredible. All photographs, articles, and adverts had to be taken, written, and designed by me. It was such hard work but hugely rewarding. It has been pieces of work like that which helped me to exercise and hone my skills.

Do you specialise in a certain area or subject of photography?

Birds – I love them! The River Trent is just a short walk from my house, so I love walking down to the river bank and photographing the yellow wagtails, sand martins, great-crested grebes, swallows, swifts, terns, gulls, lapwings, and even the odd oystercatcher! It’s paradise.
I recently visited the Farne Islands for the second time. It’s such an amazing place to explore, not only for photographers, but for anyone who appreciates wildlife. Although the arctic terns are a nuisance to most visitors, I have to admit I have a soft spot for them. I spent at least an hour photographing just the terns on the Inner Farne Island!

What message do you hope to get across with your photographs?

I hope to inspire people with my work. A lot of people are out of touch with the natural world nowadays, which is very worrying, as we are just another part of it. Humans have become increasingly detached from nature, and we need to remember that we are still animals. Just intelligent animals.
What I’m really passionate about is science communication – conveying information and scientific findings to the general public using my skills in photography. I am very passionate about conservation and animal welfare, so I often try to raise awareness of certain issues using my photography. If I could encourage more people to take an interest in wildlife with my work, I will be very happy indeed. That’s what I hope to achieve.

What equipment did you use to snap wildlife?

I use a Nikon D600 and a Sigma 150-500mm telephoto lens, usually with a Giottos monopod – that lens is not the lightest of things! I also use my Samyang 14mm wide angle lens a lot. Super telephotos are great for getting up close shots, but sometimes, there is nothing better than a wacky wide angle shot of wildlife. Wide angles are underused in this field.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to photograph nature?

Use whatever you can afford. Super telephoto lenses can be very expensive, but there are 300mm telephotos which are relatively cheap and can help you get some lovely shots of wildlife. If like me, it’s birds you want to focus on, then make sure you get to grips with identification. Learn what birds look like, what their songs sound like, and what their flight patterns are. I hadn’t learned the songs and calls of birds until more recently, and it has transformed my photography trips and my life in general. You can listen to the green woodpecker’s laughing call, the sweet trills of a wren’s song, or the twinkling of an overhead goldfinch, and revel in the fact you know they’re there without being able to see them. Often now, I am ready for a shot because I’ve heard the bird before I see it.

What are your plans for the future? Do you have a career in mind?

Oh no, not the dreaded question! I don’t have one particular career in mind yet, but I know that it will involve the things I love: photography and wildlife. Does that mean I’ll be a wildlife photographer? I guess so, but going freelance is very difficult. I hope freelance is the way I’ll go once I’ve made a bit of money, but first I’ll be applying for jobs. BBC Natural History Unit – here I come!

What an inspirational lady! Here are a few other snaps I love form her collection.

I thank Lara for letting me interrogate her and post some of her wonderful work.  Check out her Facebook page for more amazing snaps and you can also follow her on Twitter; she loves a good old chinwag about nature.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Review: BioLite CampStove

This BioLite CampStove has been on D’s lust list for quite some time and one he could finally justify buying with the money he received for his birthday. As a lover of gadgets and anything to do with camping, the CampStove is the ultimate off-grid item in his collection.

The CampStove is, like the names suggests, a camp Stove. It’s can for cook food and heat water but it has some amazing technology that enables it to produce power to a USB port. That means mobile phones, tablets and many other USB powered devices can be charged by the power produced from the fuel the Stove burns.

How does it work? 

Solid biofuel burns in the canister and converts heat to electricity to power a fan to make the burning process ultra-efficient. The extra electricity produced is sent to the USB port to power small gadgets. This awesome technology uses a Thermoelectric Generator (TEG) to convert heat into electricity. The Biolite produces electricity to power the integrated battery that powers a fan. The fan improves combustion which increases the efficiency of the device and the surplus generated electricity powers the USB port.

How much does it cost and where can it be purchased from?

D bought his for £129.95 from Outback Trading which was around £20 cheaper than many of the other online retailers.

How much fuel does it require?

To keep the fire hot enough for the device to produce electricity via the USP port, the fire needs to be continuously stoked with sticks. This was a novelty for the first 20 minutes of charging a mobile phone but it then got a bit tedious. The canister is so small and the device needs so much heat to produce the power meaning it needs very dry sticks to keep going. After a few unsuccessful attempts to light the Stove using sticks collected from wherever we were at the time, D resorted to carrying around a bag full of dry sticks of the preferred dimensions from home, just in case.

How long does it take to charge a phone?

We tested the following makes and models:
iPhone 4s: It was already partially charged and didn’t see any increase in charge after 20 minutes
HTC Wildfire: The phone was charged from flat for about 45 minutes. The phone gained about 15% battery power.
Sony Experia SP: Didn’t work at all.

How long does it take to boil a kettle of water?

It took about 5 minutes to boil the kettle of water which is quite impressive. The kettle contained enough water to fill 5 mugs with some left over.

Watch this clip to see the CampStove in action


  • Fun, off grid gadget.
  • Free to run after the initial outlay.
  • Can be used at most campsites and festivals as it is ‘off the ground’ and doesn’t use gas.
  • No waste compared to gas-run Stoves.
  • Carbon neutral and eco friendly (technically but realistically as it is made from plastic and metal and we haven’t replaced the trees we’ve burnt).
  • Good talking point with friends (D’s contribution to this review!)


  • Requires very dry sticks of a specific size to get going.
  • No storage of power for the USB port. It has to be running to charge USB devices.
  • Takes a very long time to charge a mobile phone making it unpractical for this purpose
  • Runs out of fuel quickly so requires constant stocking.
  • The device doesn’t justify the price tag.


It’s a novelty gadget that D has had great pleasure showing to friends that have an interest in off-grid living and/or mechanics but it isn’t suitable for its purpose. It’s not practical for charging phones while ‘in the wild’ because you will be so busy searching for perfectly sized dry sticks that the Stove will have burnt out before you have found any.  D does not share my thoughts on the review and thinks it is ‘amazing’ and takes it on every camping trip or visit to friends’ houses.  It’s a costly gadget but I love the idea of a Thermoelectric Generator that can run on solid, natural fuel that can power technology. This particular device may be quite impractical compared to other solutions but it does what it says on the tin and it’s great that companies have an interest in developing technology that one day could solve the world’s sustainable power problems.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The song thrush's nest

A few weeks ago I posted about the abundance of bird nests in the wood and some were in awkward, inconvenient places.

A song thrush had nested under the bonnet of the dumper truck meaning it couldn’t be used for several weeks while mother and father thrush hatched out their eggs and reared their brood.

The chicks fledged successfully and the nest could then be removed. Leaving the nest could be a potential fire hazard as it was located right on the mechanics and electrics of the vehicle. The dry twigs could ignite easily but also mice like to make use of old nests and mice do not go well wires! It also may have tempted other birds to nest in there. Elsewhere in the wood a pair of robins have built a nest on top of a used thrush’s nest and it currently has young in it. We didn’t want the same to happen with the thrush nest under in the dumper so it was best to remove it.

Holding a nest allows you to get a really good look at how intricate the design is. The inside is a perfect circle with a domed bottom, evenly formed from a layer of mud. It’s extraordinary how birds are able to create such accurate geometric shapes, and be so artistic, all with their little beaks

For comparison, this is a blackbird nest. It is very similar in size and construction but the main difference isn’t visible here. Blackbirds line their nests with soft dry grass but it will have been worn away by the chicks leaving the mud layer beneath that makes it look similar to the thrush’s nest.

Left: thrush nest Right: blackbrid nest
Thrush nest                                                                                                blackbird nest 

Here are the two nests side by side. They are very similar, probably because both the song thrush and blackbird are members of the same family, Turdidae, so have similar behaviour traits.

Aren't nests just amazing?

PS. Have you had any nest in your garden this year?

Monday, 7 July 2014

Budget roundup: June

June was a very busy month as it was my Sister’s wedding, a friend’s wedding and we went to Wales for a long weekend so it isn’t a surprise that we went over budget.  I haven’t included the money spent on my Sister and brother-in-law’s gift as it was an extra cost we accounted for separately.

The warm weather clearly has a positive effect on our mood which has a negative effect on our bank account!


Last month we went over budget so it was predicted we would come in under budget this month by a fantastic £99. We are still doing well with our packed lunch pledge which keeps the cost of food down.


We were a bit naughty thought June because we kept the immersion heater one pretty much the whole time and had lots of baths. Our guilty pleasure is hard to kick and now it’s a week into July and the heater is still on. It’s only cost £10 extra over the month and a hot bath each night is sooo worth it.


I hate filling up the tank with diesel. There is nothing fun about breaking off from one’s journey to stand for several minutes in a an unattractive garage with other cars impatiently waiting behind you then having to hand over almost £60 in one go. I hate it even more when we go over budget on our petrol allowance. Think the trip to Wales is to blame for that.


Considering the weddings we went to and the holiday we had we didn’t go over budget by too much.
It’s quite hard to keep track of the amount we spend on social because D usually withdraws cash from the account which then gets spent over a course of time. Some may get spent on food because that’s what we have at hand, for example, making it hard to be exact with figures. It also makes it hard to track how much we spent on each occasion. We know at the time but have forgotten by the end of the month. We could keep a written record each time but feel there would be little benefit for all the bother.

In May’s budget roundup I explained we had decided to pool all costs for the cars. We had further discussions and have decided to save money for car up-keep in a separate bank account as our shared accounts is solely for monthly expenses. We worked out that around £160 a month needs to be saved to cover the cost of insurance, tax, MOT and repairs. That’s quite a lot of extra money to save! We haven’t actually started saving because I forked out £123.75 for a 6 month disk at the end of last month which made a massive dent in my personal account. It will be more realistic to start this in August so we will aim for then.

PS. How did you do with your budget in June?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The most boring place in England

‘The most boring place in England’ is, apparently, near Scunthorpe in my home county of the East Riding of Yorkshire. It was identified back in 2001 by OS experts who used computer software to scan the 204 Landranger map series and has no features other than a single pylon.

Film maker Lois Hanney lives close to the square kilometre plot in a little village called Adlingfleet. She set out to prove the area is far from dull as the headlines made out and created a beautiful film featuring the abundance of wildlife that thrives there. This is the result…

Lois is in her third year of the (Hons) Filmmaking at Manchester School of Art (part of the Manchester Metropolitan University) which is a practical, art-based film course that pushes us as students to explore our ideas and stories through moving image.

After seeing her film on the internet I caught up with Lois to ask her a few questions about her and her work.

Why did you choose to film wildlife for your course?

Throughout the 3 years of my filmmaking degree I tried a lot of approaches and styles of film but felt most at home with documentary. I've always loved nature and growing up in rural East Yorkshire I am lucky enough to have it on my doorstep - literally! I really wanted to enjoy my final year as much as possible, therefore decided to combine my love of nature, my love of my home town and my love of documentary filmmaking.

How long did it take you to record the footage?

I started filming in August 2013 - and finished in May 2014.... This wasn't constant filming, I had to split my time between filming and home and working/attending lectures in Manchester. I tended spend one week in Manchester, and one in Yorkshire, and alternate like that. When I was shooting at home, I would be up at around 5am each morning to catch the sun rise and would be out until sun set, so it was quite exhausting!

What message do you hope to get across with your film?

I guess the overall message/theme that I would like to get across is a sense of pride in where I grew up. It is a really personal film for me because all the images are nostalgic; they remind me of my childhood with my friends and family.
Also on a more literal level I wanted to show that mapping an area into lines and shapes on paper doesn't provide a realistic reflection of place - the area may look boring but it is a place rich in wildlife and nature.

What equipment did you use to record?

I use a canon 60d body, and a 170-500 sigma lens for the wildlife. I also use a 90mm Tamron tele-macro lens, and a 'husky' tripod, both of which I was given. Not the most hi-tech equipment but the best I could do with a student budget!

Have you been graded for your film yet?

I have been given my provisional marks - for the film I got 63 which is a 2:1. These marks haven't been moderated but it looks like I am going to graduate with a 2:1 overall!

Do you have any advice for people wanting to film nature?

Film something you are passionate about. There is no way you will be patient enough to sit, in the rain, at 4:45am, every morning for a WHOLE WEEK in the hope of getting one quick shot of an elusive animal - unless you really love what you are filming.

What are your plans for the future?

In the future I would love to be a freelance wildlife filmmaker, specifically a cinematographer. In the mean time, I am working a regular 9 - 5 job in order to be able to afford equipment/transportation costs so I can build up my wildlife filmmaking portfolio.

Wow, Lois has really inspired me to stop daydreaming about catching wildlife on film and to actually do something about it. I love taking pictures of wildlife I can access easily like the nest full of blue tit chicks I blogged about a few weeks ago, but not tested my patience for the more aloof animals such as fox and roe deer.

Here are some wonderful stills of some of the wildlife featured in The Most Boring Place In England.

Green-veined white butterfly on yarrow

Male marsh harrier

Cherry blossom

Red fox

Many thanks to Lois for sharing her film and answering my questions. I have my fingers crossed for her final grade and wish her the very best of look for her future in wildlife filmmaking. 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Holme Farm campsite in Horton in Ribblesdale

When we took on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge a few weeks ago we stayed at the Holme Farm campsite situated in the village of Horton in Ribblesdale. The village is a popular starting point for the 26 mile walk and the campsite is conveniently located on the opposite side of the road to the path that leads to the first summit of Pen-y-ghent.

The facilities are limited but they are sufficient and fit for purpose. The main car park fills up quickly but there is a second car park located on the other side of the campsite accessed on the same stretch of road just 100 or so yards heading out of the village.

The site overlooks the Horton in Ribblesdale quarry, field upon field of sheep, the final peak of the challenge which is Ingleborough and the path leading from the peak to the finish line in the village. It’s very beautiful.

The site is run by a very helpful and jolly chap who sits in his reception area best described as a pollytunnel shaped hut adorned in many carpets and hundreds of trinkets placed and hug from all angles. There is even 2 pianos and a three pieces sweet in there! He provided a very warm welcome and even lent me a book for the day.

The grassed fields are well maintained and there are plenty of areas suitable for pitching tents. Some grass is left long in areas that are raised or are a little bit rough. The site is very laid back and you can choose your own spot to pitch.

As expected, the midges were out in force in May so repellent is recommended. Raise camp fires are allowed and there are eggs for sale from the reception tunnel; perfect for breakfast before the long hike.

The toilet block is separated into male and female areas, both of which have a single shower which accepts £1 into the meter.  The shower is basic but hot and there was enough money left in the meter from the previous person which was handy. Impressively, there are 6 hooks on the back of the door for hanging clothes and towels. The fact there is only one shower for males and one for females lets the site down. I waited until late evening to shower to avoid queuing. The toilets are well stocked with at least 2 toilet rolls per cubicle and I witnessed him cleaning the sinks twice before 7.30am! Many reviews across the internet fault the toilets for being grubby but it really doesn't bother us. There were cobwebs in the eaves but the toilets themselves were clean.

There’s a mess room in the toilet block with 2 sinks and washing up liquid and sponges are provided.

The landlord emptied all the bins and cleared up any rubbish lying around once most people had left on the Sunday morning. Here's D handing over our waste to the lawnmower tailor.

The campsite is very popular, especially on weekends, so I recommend booking to avoid disappointment, The landlord will most likely great you on arrival and invite you into the reception tunnel to pay and get tickets to display on your car and tent. My friend arrived at 6.00am and he was up and ready to welcome him in at that time! Bookings are taken over the phone on 01729 86028.

Inevitably, many people returned to the campsite late after celebrating their achievements at the local pubs. There was quite a lot of noise from one group; annoying, but expected.

Overall Holme Farm is the perfect campsite for those taking on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge and is a beautiful place to return to and  relax while overlooking two of Yorkshire’s highest peaks you have just defeated.

Monday, 23 June 2014

A visit to Rodley Nature Reserve in Leeds

Rodley Nature Reserve is a wetland habitat located just outside the city of Leeds in the quaint suburb of Rodley by the River Aire and Leeds to Liverpool Canal. The area is stop-off route for migrating waders and wildfowel and was designed to encourage wetland wildlife back to the Leeds area.

The Nature Reserve is free to visit but is only open on Saturday’s, Sunday’s and Wednesday’s 10am until 5pm. The centre has a small cafĂ© with hot drinks and snack on sale, disabled toilets, ample parking and a series of paths suitable for most prams and wheelchairs in dry weather. During the summer months, pond dipping equipment can be hired. The kit consists of a net, basin and identification sheet and there are a couple of ponds with decked edges for visitors to do their dipping from.

Several hides are located along the wetland offering vantage points to look across the water at the bird life. Some of the hides are wooden, but most are made from shipping containers; presumably to reduce the risk of criminal damage. When I worked on and RSPB reserve in a built up area the hides were often subject to arson so were replaced with metal versions.

The Reserve  runs a harvest mouse breeding program and has two tanks containing the UK’s smallest mammal on display in the visitor centre. A few were snuggled together in a mock harvest mouse nest and others were negotiating the obstacles in their tank. These cuties are well worth a visit.

This reed warbler’s nest displayed in the visitor centre is fascinating. The reeds are so intricately entwined together; all of which has been done with the tiny beak of a bird.

The visitor centre has a good display of mammal and bird skulls, feathers and nests in a glass cabinet. I am fascinated by skulls and even have a collection so I had lots of fun identifying the ones on display. Each item is clearly labelled which is great for educating visitors.

The highlight of the day, for me, was seeing common terns catching fish and feeding their young. They were too far away to get a good snap of but we got a good look at their activity using the binoculars.

We had a go at budget digiscoping with the binoculars and our iPhones to snap picture of the swans and their signets preening in the long grass and of a juvenile coot. The results are a little grainy but not bad for improvisation.

Wildflowers were blooming in all areas of the reserve and the gentle hum of insects filled the air. I was pleasantly surprised by how peaceful the area is despite it being encircled by houses, roads and factories. It really is a hidden gem in the city.

The weir located on the river next to the reserve is 1.8m high and makes passing moving upriver impossible
for migrating fish. In 2013 a fish pass was constructed to allow fish to move up and down the river. The reserve land is leased from Yorkshire Water who built the fish pass with funding gained from the Environment Agency. It is also part of Yorkshire Water’s wider scheme to enhance biodiversity in the rivers of Yorkshire which is detailed in their 25-year strategy document labelled Blueprint for Yorkshire. The fish pass features as a case study in the Blueprint  and Yorkshire Water plan a further 14 fish passage projects by 2020 costing over £6 million. Impressive news for nature conservation.

Rodley Nature Reserve really is a little piece of heaven in the city worth visiting and a great place for all ages to get closer to nature. For more information visit their website here.