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November 2011

One that got away

Cock pheasants fighting PB071126-Edit-Edit_blog

I'm rather pleased with this new photograph of mine showing two cock pheasants knocking seven bells* out of each other.

It was taken in a country lane on the pretty Cowal Peninsula in Argyll & Bute during my recent photographic trip. I came round a corner in the car and there they were, right in the narrow road, squaring up.

I stopped as quickly as I could and first grabbed my D3s. On trips like that I normally have both the Nikon and Olympus ready, one with a 24-70mm zoom on for close and middle shots and the other with the superb 50-200mm Zuiko and 2x teleconverter for as much reach as I can muster in case it's needed (at full stretch it's the full frame equivalent of almost 800mm/f7).

I got off a few shots through the windscreen with the Nikon. Here's the scene:

Wide shot cock pheasants _GE04608_blog

I then switched to the E3 and took a few more, before carefully opening the driver's door and getting the lens into the angle. It was a very quiet lane and it was safe to stop right where I was.  I checked the camera settings, upping the ISO to 1000 which was giving me about 1/500th speed on a fairly wide aperture.

The birds seemed oblivious: eyeballing each other, strutting and circling, occasionally rushing - and then every now and then having a full-blown dust-up. These actual physical encounters were momentary and of course as the shutter fires, you can't see the image briefly.

I was excited when I knew I'd taken a great shot as they both jumped several feet into the air, claws out, wings flapping. Fantastic!

Or not. Imagine my disappointment when I checked afterwards and found this:


As I was pressing the shutter release they had jumped above my framing! Ho hum. You learn something every day.

Still, I did also get the marvellous one above. In fact it's the better image I think, on reflection, because their tussle was so quick - such a blur of fluttering feathers - that it is only in the stilled moment that I could see that one of them had turned completely upside down.

So, maybe fate was looking out for me after all.

- - -

* Where does that expression come from I wonder?



There is something fascinating about the urban periphery. I don't mean shanty towns; in fact I mean the opposite. Instead of people crammed into makeshift habitats, I mean habitats that were fully intended to be peopled, but are not.

I can remember, when I was a boy, exploring in some local woods with our pet dog and coming upon, first, lots of rhodedendron bushes among the woodland, a sign of cultivation, then the back of a big old mansion, all derelict and smashed. Spooky to wander around and peer into. (Years later it was done up and became the Rushpool Hall Hotel, and very splendid it is).

On the Costa Blance in Spain some years ago, I remember driving and walking around an abandoned holiday resort: roads all laid out with drains and lamp posts, but overgrowing with grass. Deserted buildings; an empty swimming pool.

Today I happened to turn down a side road on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll and Bute, just to see where it went, and stumbled across Polphail. Cordoned off, after a fashion, with temporary site fencing, it was easily visible from a concrete access road along which a public footpath was signposted.

What a weird place. It looked to be fairly modern - 1970s, maybe; concrete-built two-storey accommodation blocks, with all the windows smashed and a few wall-sized graffiti cartoons of people.  Spooky as hell - especially when I heard, from within one of the darkened rooms, a deep, guttural, hacking cough.

Signs say bats live there. Apt.

My camera's GPS metadata places it at this lat/long: 55.87047667, -5.30587667.  Here's the place on Google's Streetview, although the caravans at the entrance have now been moved some way further back. There are warning signs on the fencing that it is an offence to disturb the bats.

I thought it might have been a holiday home project that had failed. But, searching later, I found that it had been built in the North Sea oil boom as housing for workers who were going to construct concrete rigs in a huge dock excavated nearby. But the rigs never got made so it was never occupied. Here's a BBC News report.

The demolition promised a few years ago clearly has not happened; however, a smart new marina  promised in the old dry dock is now up and running, and very swish it looks.

Here's a Scotsman report on the graffiti project, and of course I have some photos on my site. There is a much fuller set of photos on Flickr.

Interesting, turning down side roads.