Monday 31 October 2011

Potato to Pumpkin

I wonder how many tons of these orange Cucurbitaceae members will have been sold over the past couple of weeks? We have the Story of Stingy Jack to thank for the annual popularity of the pumpkin although it actually all began with a humble turnip.

When our Irish neighbours emigrated to America during the famine years, they took with them their story of Stingy Jack, along with the associated tradition of carving a turnip lantern. With the availability of the 'easy carve' American pumpkin it wasn't long before they opted to use these for lanterns instead. This updated tradition has now sailed back across the Atlantic and seems to have been adopted here on a big scale over the past twenty years or so.

Consumerism has sadly crept in, as with all other commercially hijacked annual traditions, and now pumpkins are big business. Few of these vegetables will actually be eaten, with most suffering the fate of slowly rotting on doorsteps.

Whilst on the subject of rotting vegetables it neatly brings us back full circle, and to one final question.
If the Irish potato harvest hadn't rotted and failed with the blight, would we have the tradition of the pumpkin lantern, in the form it is, now?

Saturday 29 October 2011

His 'n Hers

It happens every day!

Out on my walk with mutt, I came across a suited passer-by carrying a pheasant. Having quickly asked if I could take a picture of this vaguely bizarre sight, I had barely got my camera ready when a female passer-by came into shot carrying balloons.

Certainly couldn't have planned this unusual juxtaposition if I had tried.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Goose Barnacles - Revisited

Pleased to say that one of my goose barnacle images had a second airing in a West Cork newspaper last week.

I still can't get over these strange beach visitors!

Original goose barnacle post.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Canon TC-DC58D 1.4x tele-converter. Review

Canon Pro Solutions 2011

When I visited Canon Pro Solutions at the Business Design Centre last year, I could barely get a look-in at the then, new Powershot G12. This year, all focus was on the new 1Dx thus allowing visitors ample time to get a look-in on the G12.

However, as I have now been using my G12 since August, there was no need for me to try out this camera at the show yesterday as, if you have been following my blog, you will see I have been putting this addition to my camera bag through its paces over the past couple of months. I have been particularly pleased with the close-up ability and the general adaptablity for this pocket camera. Sadly, one of my gripes has been regards poor results at the far end of the digital zoom.

So, it was with this in mind that I took the opportunity to try at the show, the TC-DC58D 1.4x tele-converter on my own G12. By doing this, I have been able to bring the resulting images home for comparison before I make any decision as to whether it is worth shelling out around £130 for this potential addition to the G12 kit.

Here are the results:

Maximum digital zoom

Normal + 1.4x tele-converter
Maximum digital zoom + 1.4x tele-converter

 Comparison with & without 1.4x tele-converter

The 1.4x gives only a marginally better magnification. In this example the 1.4x also appears to be sharper than the full digital zoom although I would like to have done another test to discount camera shake.

To be perfectly honest, for the small boost in magnification that it provides, coupled with a potential dust-containment issue inside it and fiddly attaching proceedure, to me, means it really isn't worth it. The tele-converter would only be attached, when required at full reach as the vignetting that is created means that there is only a very small useable portion of the actual lens. At other times,  the 1.4x would just be in the way.
I actually feel that this piece of kit would only end up staying in my camera bag and so can  say now I definitely won't be buying one. I can think of far better additions for my 5D II that I could spend my money on instead.

Final word:

Am I expecting too much of what is only intended to be a pocket camera? Well, no but I will accept its limitations and stick with this useful little G12, using it in the close to mid range that it is best at. Full digital zoom will therefore only be used for those 'no alternative' occasions.

If you have found this review helpful, it would be helpful for me to know too. Please could you indicate by ticking the 'like' box below. Thank you.

Monday 24 October 2011

Forces of Nature

When the ground around splits and moves,
those on this earth can be so small, insignificant and helpless against
the forces of nature.

Our thoughts are with those caught up in the recent earthquake

Friday 21 October 2011

Disney Nature: African Cats UK release

Sita aka Shakira

Meet Sita, star of the new Disney Nature film, African Cats, which was due to be released here in the UK this October 2011. Unfortunately it has now been delayed until Spring 2012 and it is still unclear if this film is to be released into the cinemas or straight to Bluray/DVD, although I believe it may be the latter.

So, why the interest? Well, here in the UK, Sita will already be familiar to those who were viewers of the BBC series Big Cat Diares, as Sita is better known here as Shakira. It seems strange that Disney decided to change her name when all the trackers out in the Masai Mara know her already as Shakira. Her name only has to be whispered over the radio and suddenly a myriad of jeeps rush to the sighting location. That was exactly what happened when I was out in the Masai Mara just two years ago, when I too observed this 'cover girl of the Mara Vogue' on several occasions.

Cheetah watch - Shakira and her cubs are lower far right.

Taking the successful BBC observational formula of the Big Cat Diaries, originally fronted by Simon King, and Jonathan Scott, (our expert guide during my visit to the Mara) Disney Nature focused on this cheetah and her cubs plus two groups of lions from the Marsh pride- also well known to UK viewers.
 My photographer companions, oh - and the Disney Nature film crew

Over a period of more than two years, Disney Nature filmed these big cats in the wild, Simon King being one of the team, and respecting the natural space in which they lived. They edited the footage together, bringing in Samuel L Jackson to narrate this wildlife documentary film. Reviews from the US release have been quite favourable, so if you enjoyed Big Cat Diaries, then you might just enjoy this latest offering from the Disney stables.

I'm really hoping this film will portray the magic of big cat life in the amazing Masai Mara, just as I experienced it. I will, of course, let you know.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Bottling Out

The morning walk with mutt began as routine. That was, until she encountered three unknown ramblers on the footpath. Her reaction was, as it normally is on occasions such as this - stop, stare and grumble. Following an empty response from the path-blockers, she huffed, trotted past and continued along the sunlit path as if nothing had happened.

I, on the other hand, took pity on these lost Russian, Chilean and French visitors, who had clearly spent a cold night out in the open, having been abandoned by their jocular acquaintances of the previous evening. Assembling this little party, I opted to escort them to the town gathering place for exhausted party-goers, seeing as countless other passers-by had already bottled out from this act of salvation.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Pretty Dumb

As I was rounding off my deer watch yesterday morning, the second wave of woodland residents were just starting emerge for the day, so I shot off these last few images to fill my memory card before I left for home.

It confirmed that it is that time of year again when the gamekeepers have released their summer charges into the big wide world. To these pretty birds (well, the male ones anyway) this freedom is just something else. I'm positive they become extra stupid!

How many times have you driven down a pheasant-lined lane only to have them all choose to cross the road in front of you rather than just stand still?

Monday 17 October 2011

Lost the Bucks

07.27h. 1/50 sec. f 6.3. 800 ISO @400mm

Having been away in Ireland for a couple of weeks, I was interested to see how the Fallow deer rut had progressed in that time. Thankfully, with sunrise coming a little later now, I was afforded a few extra minutes in bed over my last rut visit. However, a clear moonlit morning also means chilly and it certainly was that. It took over an hour for me to warm up when I got home, but the chill was worth seeing some lovely does.

According to my favourite wildlife expert, Simon King, the Fallow deer rut peaks around the 20th October, so with that, I thought I might still be in with a chance of seeing the big boy at work. So fleeced; double-fleeced and camou-net-curtained, I once again sat and waited for the nocturnal greys to turn to colour. Sure enough, a stream of deer trickled out from the woodland behind me, and into the field. A few metres to my right it was a stream of white deer that shimmered in the half-light. A few metres to my left, a stream of menil deer camouflaged against the hedge line. They all wandered in front of me before jumping around as if troubled by a terrible itch. I had never seen them so frisky. Two deer even ran a circuit of the field, their little hooves stomping as they raced by, their heavy breathing clearly audible. Could this behaviour mean they were anticipating a visit by the big boy himself?

The light was getting better and I was able to shift my ISO as I waited for his arrival.
I waited.
Not a bellow.
Not a glimpse.
In fact, not one mature buck put in an appearance.
This must surely signal that the rut is over for this year and the apparent jumping for joy by the does is due to them losing the bucks (having done what they needed to of course).

So it seems as though our Fallow deer peaked early and my gotcha sighting of them back in the middle of September was it for this year. I'm so glad I started this rut-watch early or I would have missed all the excitement. So, now I know how to plan for next year.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Castlehaven GAA Support

As I was leaving my little corner of West Cork on Thursday, it was clear that the support for Castlehaven GAA had gone up a notch. Even since my first posting about this upcoming event was posted on Tuesday, additional flags, boards and bunting had gone up.

Ten out of ten for originality must go to the folks of Union Hall where, much to the relief of the government decision makers, no-one will be allowed to use plastic carrier bags (for the time being anyway). It appears that the entire village supply of these blue and white striped plastic vests have been put to better use as bunting.

Now that the rugby hopes are over, why not show appreciation to these ardent supporters by giving the match a watch on Sunday afternoon, online on TG4 Gaelic TV.
Sorry, you won't have a clue with the commentary but the language of winning is understood by all. Let's will Castlehaven to win so that it will make all of their visual support worthwhile.

Next week, shoppers in Union Hall will be doing their bit for recycling by using second-hand carrier bags.

Post match PS
Maybe shoppers in Union Hall will be asking for brown paper bags instead.
Bad luck Haven.

Friday 14 October 2011

Homeward Journey

Following my blog post Friday 13th May I decided to heed my own warning to avoid a certain M6 service area on this, my Thursday 13th October homeward journey, instead stopping at one of those 'Diminutive Cook' establishments in North Wales.

Upon arrival there were only three other patrons in what appeared to be a 'winding down to closing time' dining area but I was greeted cheerily and a most prompt and welcome "be careful the pot is very full" real teapot of tea arrived at my table. And an excellent cuppa it was too! It thankfully lacked the usual overpowering chemical aroma of dishwasher detergent and although it didn't sport the classy teabag tag of the Knutsford experience, they can be forgiven as this was a crockery experience and there was real milk - none of the UHT stuff in fiddly plastic pots.

My meal order followed shortly and whilst tasty, did fall down in the beautiful appearance awards, but again, the cheery staff were attentive and keen to ensure that I was enjoying the whole dining experience. It did the trick though and less than hour after arriving, I was back on the road feeling refreshed and not regretting my choice of roadside diner - as that is what it is. This chain may have launched a new identity but there is no escaping what niche was being filled, but I can say this was altogether a far better experience than the one of the 13th May.

So, of the photograph. It seems I have started a trend with the - whilst I'm waiting, record the tea, image. Might be interesting to see where this takes me.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

The Emerald Isle

I can evaluate my latest visit to Ireland in three letters - w e t.
Above, a triptych showing two things that make Ireland the Emerald Isle.
Emerald Isle, a pair of words that equal one special place.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Castlehaven GAA - County Finals 2011

Sadly, as I write, the Irish (and indeed, English) Rugby World Cup teams must be heading home following their defeats at quarter-final level down in New Zealand. This leaves a void in the sport support culture that sweeps a nation at these times. Happily though, for the people of this little corner of West Cork, they still have a glimmer of anticipation. Despite the Southern hemisphere disappointment, and the dreary weather currently hugging this coastal area of County Cork, there may still be something to celebrate.

Any visitor to the locality can't but fail to notice the splashes of blue and white that have appeared in many forms, and in the most unexpected places, all over the area. The blue and white are the colours of the Castlehaven GAA - the Gaelic football club, who on Sunday 16th will be playing UCC in the County finals of the sport up in Cork City. The Irish take their Gaelic sport seriously and indeed, their support for their teams is taken equally as seriously.

Back in the UK, support like this for local football (soccer) teams or other sports is almost never seen on this scale, which is really rather sad as it seems that here, supporters have so much more fun. As illustrated above, it can take the form of car window flags, bunting, painted pallets, over-painted signposts (hmm what will the local council think?!) as well as the expected normal flags. My neighbours have also joined in and fixed flags to the end of their cow house, put bunting across the end of the road and taped flags to the gates. With all this going on around me, I almost feel compelled to be swept up into this tide of support for my 'local team' although I'm not sure I'm ready to put the bunting up across my gateway just yet.

However, I do wish them Good Luck in the match on Sunday.

"Up the Haven!"

Castlehaven (Irish: Gleann Bearcháin) is a civil parish in County Cork, Ireland. It is located some 75 km south west of Cork City on the coast and is made up of two key towns: Union Hall and Castletownshend.The area is famous for Gaelic football with Castlehaven Gaelic football club claiming local and national honours in 1989,1994 and 2003

Castlehaven GAA

Friday 7 October 2011


They say a workman should never blame his tools but actually, I am going to qualify that by saying I had the wrong tools this morning.

As the weather has been less than favourable for cameras since I arrived in West Cork, I have kept my 5D mkII in the bag, instead choosing to use my G12, which can easily be stowed away in a pocket when the frequent showers arrive. So, this morning, as I took mutt for her walk on the strand, I actually had my G12 in my hand rather than my pocket, as the weather was looking far more promising.

I have commented before in my blog, that whilst generally I am really pleased with my little G12, it fails big time when it comes to using the far end of the digital zoom. Here, today, it failed me. This lovely shot of a cormorant in a West Cork coastal scene presented itself to me, and oh, if only I had had my 5D mkII and my 100-400 lens I would have been rather chuffed with this picture. Sadly, I am not quite so chuffed as I have had to work on subduing the undesirable effect of sharpening that the G12 seems to apply on 'max-zoom'. That annoying halo effect that appears around all the edges, just as it would with over zealous use of the sharpen tool in Photoshop. Speaking of Photoshop, I have the old CS2 version here along with an old low-res screen that thinks nothing of flitting through the whole spectrum at will. Again, I seem to have the wrong tools, but as that is all I have here, I will have to make do, so, if you spot any inadequacies in this post, please accept my apologies.

On a positive note, it has been a beautiful calm, sunny day today so the 'the big camera' made a welcome return to the stage this evening. Better go check what I laid down on that memory card now.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Worthy West Cork Weather

Finally, after several days of sea mist, rain and gales, an evening that is worth shouting about.

Wednesday 5 October 2011


Couldn't help but feel sorry for the loner - couldn't resist this fun shot either.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Goose Barnacles (Lepas anatifera)

Walking mutt along one of our favourite beaches in West Cork last evening, we determined to walk as far as a large green mass we could see ahead of us on the sand, and before retracing our steps back to the car. As expected, the large green mass was a tangle of fishing net that had been washed up on the beach during high seas.

Just about to do the retreat, we took a last look at this gear that had more than likely been cut free after becoming tangled, and had then drifted the seas until reaching this strand. Closer inspection revealed what appeared to be molluscs clinging to the net, the like I had never seen before.

Every now and then, these strange creatures would open the yellow lips of the shell as a bunch of tentacles helplessly groped around in the fresh air. Clearly more used to performing this action under water, I couldn't help feeling sorry for these stranded oddities.

The grain of sand on one of the tentacles here, gives an indication of the scale.

Moving a little further back along the beach, we then passed another example of this unusual sight - something we had missed on the way up the beach. This time, rather than just the single examples as seen on the net, several thousand of these creatures could be found clinging to both ends of a large piece of drift wood that was around seven feet long. They varied from large shells attached with what looked like over-sized versions of the sweet shop favourite, jelly snakes, to small and very small shells, still developing and attached to the centre portion of the drift wood.

They hung down from their flotsam host like beaded dreadlocks, some clearly healthier than others but most taking their turn to 'savour the air' in the hope of catching a tasty passing morsel.

They were totally captivating not only for their unusual activity but with their striking grey shell form and the complementing yellow edging.
My first task when returning home would be to look up exactly what these unusual creatures were.

Goose Barnacle Lepas anatifera

Lepas anatifera  or Goose Barnacle
Normally found in open water environments, they live attached to floating driftwood or any other floating mass, catching passing food with their feathery tentacles. The western reaches of the UK and Ireland is considered to be the areas where goose barnacles are found, but they can put appearances such as this, when stormy weather might bring their floating homes to the shores. Although they do look like bi-valve molluscs, they are actually related to crabs and lobsters.

My thanks to Maya Plass for making me aware that I had attributed the wrong name to my goose barnacles. (Not quite sure how I managed to do that) I stand corrected.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Walk on the Strand

Whilst most of the south-eastern half of the UK basks in unseasonably hot weather,
I have chosen to be in the seasonably soggy, foggy weather of south-west of Ireland.

Ever been in the wrong place?