Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer
Chris Mattison Wildlife Photographer

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Photographing the Glamorgan Heritage Coast

Nash Point, Glamorgan, Wales, UK

Nash Point

The Glamorgan Heritage Coast stretches from Ogmore-by-Sea in the west to Nash Point in the east. The closest town of any size is Llantwit Major. It’s hard to believe the centre of Cardiff is just 20 miles away. The geology and landscape along this stretch is both interesting and dramatic. At Dunraven Bay and Nash Point the rock is conspicuously stratified, and flat pavements of eroded bedding planes reach out from the base of the cliffs towards the sea.

Cliffs east of Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan, and Nash Point, showing tilted bedding planes and hanging valleys. Stitched panoramic image.

Cliffs east of Dunraven Bay looking towards Nash Point, showing tilted bedding planes and hanging valleys.  This and the previous panorama are created from several stitched images.

Carboniferous limestone pavement and cliff showing sedementary Jurassic sandstone bedding planes. Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan

Carboniferous limestone pavement and cliff showing sedementary Jurassic sandstone bedding planes. Dunraven Bay

Sedimentary rocks, consisting of Carboniferous limestone overlaid with Jurassic sandstone. Southerndown bedding planes, Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan

Sedimentary rocks, consisting of Carboniferous limestone overlaid with Jurassic sandstone. Southerndown bedding planes, Dunraven Bay

There is much to photograph when conditions are suitable: ideally, the tide needs to be out; the sun needs to shine; and the beaches need to be relatively free from people. Bringing all these conditions together is not easy but cold, bright, winter days seem best. And, let’s face it, it would be churlish to complain about a few other people enjoying these beautiful sections of coast; just avoid the height of summer if you want the place (almost) to yourself.

Horizontal bedding planes exposed on a cliff at Nash Point, Glamorgan.

Horizontal bedding planes exposed on a cliff at Nash Point.

The landscape lends itself to panoramic images, and to long exposures showing the encroaching waves lapping around the rocks. When the sun is low in the sky the pavement-like bedding planes are picked out most easily. Details can be found in the shapes of weathered rocks, and in the strange reefs formed by a polychaete worm, Sabellaria alveolata, otherwise known as the Honeycomb Worm. These are only visible at low tide. More exposed shore-life is restricted to species that can cling on tenaciously in the face of the battering seas, like limpets and barnacles, or jam themselves into crevices in the rocks, such as Periwinkles, Top Shells and Dog Whelks. A very rare purple form of the Dog Whelk is found here; it is known from only a few places in the world. The large rocks towards the top of the beach often contain fossil bivalves, Gryphaea, otherwise known as “Devils Toenails”, and ammonites.

Fossil bivalves of the genus Gryphaea, embedded in carboniferous limestone rock. Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan

Fossil bivalves of the genus Gryphaea, embedded in carboniferous limestone rock. Dunraven Bay

Limestone pavement at Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan, with part of a fossil ammonite embedded.

Part of the pavement at Dunraven Bay with a segment of a fossil ammonite embedded.

Part of a colony of Honeycomb Worms, Sabellaria alveolata, a reef-forming polychaete worm, exposed at low tide. Nash Point, Glamorgan, Wales, UK. The tubes are formed from sand grains and shell fragments.

Part of a colony of Honeycomb Worms, Sabellaria alveolata, a reef-forming polychaete worm, exposed at low tide at Nash Point. The tubes are formed from sand grains and shell fragments.

Rare purple form of Dog Whelk, Nucella lapillus, on the shore at Nash Point, Glamorgan.

The very rare purple form of Dog Whelk, Nucella lapillus, on the shore at Nash Point. (Focus-stacked image)

My experience of the area is necessarily limited, having only moved to South Wales quite recently, but the three or four visits I have made so far have convinced me that there is plenty of scope for the photographer and I will certainly return as often as possible.

Limestone pavement at Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan

Visitors enjoy the dying rays of the sun as it grazes the limestone pavement on a winter’s afternoon at Dunraven Bay.

 

 

South Africa 2017

In August 2017 I visited South Africa with a small group of nature photographers, with the object of photographing the flowers of Namaqualand (see the previous post).  This year happened to be one of the driest on record and so the fields of Namaqua Daisies were nowhere to be seen but, nevertheless, we managed to find a variety of plant and animal subjects.

Starting in Cape Town, we first explored the Cape Peninsula National Park before travelling north into Namaqualand, through the unique quartz-strewn region known as the Knersvlakte, then into the rocky hills east of Kamieskroon before turning south again and journeying through the Cederberg Mountains eventually coming full circle back to Cape Town via Stellenbosch and Betty’s Bay.

In addition to the small sample of photos posted below, there is a larger gallery here.

Daisy, Botterblom (Afrikaans), Gazania lichtensteinii, Kamieskroon, Western Cape, South Africa.

Daisy, Botterblom (Afrikaans), Gazania lichtensteinii, Kamieskroon, Western Cape, South Africa.

Oophytum nanum, in bud, growing among quartz pebbles in the Knersvlakte, Western Cape, South Africa, where it is endemic.

Oophytum nanum, in bud, growing among quartz pebbles in the Knersvlakte, Western Cape, South Africa, where it is endemic.

San rock-art paintings of elephants and people, Cederberg Wilderness, South Africa

San rock-art paintings of elephants and people, Cederberg Wilderness, South Africa

Foliose lichen, Cederberg Mountains, South Africa

Foliose lichen, Cederberg Mountains, South Africa

Grain patterns in dead Eucalyptus stump

Grain patterns in dead Eucalyptus stump

Kokerboom, or Quiver Tree, Aloidendron dichotomum, Western Cape, South Africa. Previously known as Aloe dichotoma.

Kokerboom, or Quiver Tree, Aloidendron dichotomum, Western Cape, South Africa. Previously known as Aloe dichotoma.

Namaqualand Tour, August 2017

In August this year I will be leading a small group of nature photographers on a tour of Namaqualand, South Africa.  This region is justifiably famous for its wealth and variety of wild flowers and the tour is timed to coincide with the peak of the season.  Starting in Cape Town, we will drive north, visiting sites I have explored on previous visits, searching out interesting floral curiosities and sweeps of seasonal colour; “flowers in the landscape”.  Along the way, we will also be keeping our eyes open for opportunities to see and photograph wildlife, including the many insects attracted to the flowers, and well as birds and game.

This tour will definitely run but are still a few places left: for the full itinerary, and more details, please visit http://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/group-tours/flower-photography-in-namaqualand 

Kokerboom, or quiver tree, Goegap Nature Reserve, Springbok, South Africa

Kokerboom, or quiver tree, Goegap Nature Reserve, Springbok, South Africa

Aloinopsis luckhoffii, a stone-mimic succulent, Cape Prov. South Africa.

Aloinopsis luckhoffii, a stone-mimic succulent, Cape Prov. South Africa.

Felicia daisies, Namaqualand, South Africa

Felicia daisies, Namaqualand, South Africa

Flowering "mesem" (Mesembryanthemum), Cederberg Mountains, Clanwilliam, South Africa

Flowering “mesem” (Mesembryanthemum), Cederberg Mountains, Clanwilliam, South Africa

Paintbrush, Haemanthus albiflos, a South African member of the Amaryllidaceae

Paintbrush, Haemanthus albiflos, a South African member of the Amaryllidaceae

Tree Aloe, Aloe arborescens, South Africa. Abstract study of leaf.

Tree Aloe, Aloe arborescens, South Africa. Abstract study of leaf.

Milkweed grasshopper, Phymateus morbillosus, Vanrhynsdorp, Western Cape, South Africa

Milkweed grasshopper, Phymateus morbillosus, Vanrhynsdorp, Western Cape, South Africa

Monmouthshire moth magic

Although I have had a fair bit of experience with moth traps over the years these have always involved other people’s traps, and usually when I have been leading tours to other parts of the world. Moving to a more isolated location in SE Wales, where we are not overlooked by neighbours, gave me a long-awaited opportunity to buy my own trap and see what we could find.  The trap I use is a Robinson trap with a mercury vapour lamp; this lights up most the garden, which is why I was reluctant to experiment when we had nearby neighbours.

Robinson moth trap set up in a back garden.

Robinson moth trap set up in a back garden.


Although it’s early days, the results so far have been encouraging. Despite cold nights, March has proved surprisingly productive. My regime is to set the light once a week – any more than this would, I feel, simply encourage the same moths to visit repeatedly, which would prevent them from feeding and mating. Early morning is the time to check the trap, before it is fully light and before the birds have had time to glean any moths that have come to rest on nearby walls and shrubs, and this involves an early start – 5.30am at the moment but this will get earlier as the summer progresses! Species that have been caught previously are released straight away. Anything new is placed in a tub with a piece of tissue and stored away in a cool, dark place until I have time to photograph it: photography is the main motivation although interesting records (just one so far) are passed on to the county recorder.

The photography is relative simple. Moths are placed on a background that illustrates their camouflage and photographed with natural light, often using three or four focus stacks to make sure there is front-to-back sharpness. The trick, of course, is to get the stacks done before the moth decides to move off and here a focussing rail speeds up the process as well as making sure the stacks are evenly spaced. Some individuals are then photographed on a plain white background, as records, before being released.

Shown below is just a sample of the moths we have caught this month.  You can find a larger selection of moth photos here.

Early Thorn moth, Selenia dentaria, Catbrook, Monmouthshire, March

Early Thorn moth, Selenia dentaria, Monmouthshire, March

 

Hebrew Character moth, Orthosia gothica, family Noctuidae. Camouflaged among willow litter. Catbrook, Monmouthshire, March. Focus stacked image

Hebrew Character moth, Orthosia gothica, family Noctuidae. Camouflaged among willow litter. Monmouthshire, March. 

Hebrew Character moth, Orthosia gothica, family Noctuidae. On white background. Monmouthshire, March. Focus stacked image

Hebrew Character moth, Orthosia gothica, family Noctuidae. On white background. Monmouthshire, March. 

 

Oak Beauty moth, Biston strataria, Monmouthshire, March.

Oak Beauty moth, Biston strataria, Monmouthshire, March.

 

Early Grey moth, Xylocampa areola, Catbrook, Monmouthshire, March.

Early Grey moth, Xylocampa areola, Monmouthshire, March.

 

Common Quaker moth, Orthosia cerasi, family Noctuidae. Catbrook, Monmouthshire, March. Focus stacked image,

Common Quaker moth, Orthosia cerasi, Monmouthshire, March.

 

Dotted Chesnut Moth, Conistra rubiginea, Catbrook, Monmouthshire, March

Dotted Chestnut Moth, Conistra rubiginea, Monmouthshire, March. Our rarest catch so far with only a handful recorded from the county.


All released moths are taken to a part of the garden with plenty of cover, away from the house, and tipped out into a place where they can crawl down into cover.

Many of the species we have caught are quite plain superficially, but a look through a macro lens, with good lighting, brings out the subtle colours and markings, and definitely enhances the appreciation of these modest little insects.

On the move…..

Beech wood, autumn, Monmouthshire

Beech wood, autumn, Monmouthshire

Two grabshots to give me an excuse to announce my move from Sheffield to the Wye Valley, Wales, designated an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, which it surely is.  Unfortunately, we missed the best of the autumn colour this year but these photos will give some idea of its potential. Once we are settled in I hope to post more frequently than of late.

Country lane, Wye Valley

Country lane, Wye Valley

Drumnadrochit, Inverness

We took a short break to Drumnadrochit, on the north-western shore of Loch Ness.  Although this was supposed to be a family holiday, I did manage to sneak a few photo sessions, mainly of the moths and other insects that visited a light that was conveniently fixed above the door of our accommodation.

Divach Falls, Drumnadrochit,

Divach Falls, near Drumnadrochit

Divach Falls is not as well-known as the nearby Dog Falls, in Glen Affric, but it is more photogenic because nearly the whole length of the falls can be seen from the viewing point. Heavy rain helped to ensure there was plenty of water.

As yet unidentified moth on the door to our room.

Dark Marbled Carpet, Chloroclysta citrata, on a wooden door.

Many small and medium-sized moths, and other night-flying insects, were attracted to the light that we left on each night.  Early starts are necessary to prevent them from either flying away into the forest, or being picked off by birds, once it is light.

Peppered Moth, Biston betularia, light colour form, on Alder.

Peppered Moth, Biston betularia, light colour form, on Alder.

A single Peppered Moth put in an appearance on a nearby Alder tree one morning.  Great camouflage.

Miner bee

Honey bee, Apis mellifera

This very small, very dark and very bedraggled Honey Bee entered our cottage and obliged with a photo opportunity just before I released it.  Thanks for not stinging me!

Sexton Beetle, or Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus investigator

Sexton Beetle, or Burying Beetle, Nicrophorus investigator

Sexton Beetles are so-named because they bury small dead birds or animals before laying their eggs on them.  The larvae feed on the decaying flesh.  Like moths, they are attracted to light.

And a fern abstract to end with: Male Fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, erness, Scotland

Male Fern, Dryopteris filix-mas.

And a fern abstract to end with. No shortage of these in the Highlands.

 


Nature

Toad Grasshopper, Trachypterella species, poss. T. anderssonii, nymph, which mimics the quartz pebbles in the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa.
South Africa 2017

In August 2017 I visited South Africa with a small group of nature photographers, with the object of…

More in Nature

Photography

Nash Point, Glamorgan, Wales, UK
Photographing the Glamorgan Heritage Coast

The Glamorgan Heritage Coast stretches from Ogmore-by-Sea in the west to Nash Point in the east. The…

More in Photography