When the sun shines everything around awakens and comes to life, warming the slight chilled March air, you can hear the countryside come to life. Over the many years I have visited Norfolk whether it be alone or with clients on one to ones or workshops, the wildlife never disappoints. It’s a place I feel at home in, a place that never truly gives up its secrets straight away, almost teasing you with the ever present sightings of different birds gracing this amazing place with their presence throughout the year.
Each month I meet clients on one to ones/workshops, during the Spring Tide days, helping them with their photography, giving real and helpful advice and at the same time showing how to approach and use what you have around you in order to get close to and photograph wild animals in their environment, at the same time watching for any behaviour you may be lucky enough to witness. In between these visits I work on my own projects, mainly focusing on the bird that got my love and interest going as a child with the YOC- Young Ornithologists’ Club, the Barn Owl or ‘Ghost’ as I call this amazing bird.
This nickname relates to when I wait and watch for these Owls to show up. You wait and wait for a passing glimpse and a view into this bird’s life entrenched with mystery, then from no where and without warning the Barn Owls turns up in perfect silence, gliding, riding the winds currents, traveling effortlessly. Eyes glued to the ground beneath, on the lookout for small rodents that they feed on. They divide the field or area and hunt or quarter which refers to this practice these owls do so well on the lookout for movement, in turn prey.
They are amazing birds and one of my favourite British birds, watching them fly and hunt for a few minutes and then to make eye contact with you is a priceless moment to treasure. When you see them in the wild you witness their very distinctive appearance with a white heart-shaped face with no ear tufts and sharp black eyes all contributing to its striking appearance. Those large black eyes only let the Barn Owl look forward in a fixed position and cannot move to the side, so consequently the Barn Owl has to turn its head to see to the side or back. Their hearing is amazing and the ability to locate prey by sound alone is one of the best in the animal kingdom.
Barn Owl’s feathers make them perfectly adapted for silent flight, but this makes them prone to water logging so they are not well suited to hunting in wet weather. The key to an owl’s silent flight is in its feathers, the next time you find an owl feather, turn it on its side and look at the edge — the line of fibers is scalloped, like a stretched seam. The slight alteration in shape allows the feather to cut the air without making sound, making them perfectly aerodynamic.
I’ve been hoping that the ones I watch and photograph in Norfolk survived the recent two very harsh cold snaps we’ve had, which has really impacted hard on the numbers of these birds around the UK, where Norfolk has always been a stronghold for these birds. The pair that hunt over farmland and marshland have done well so far and are looking their best with the breeding season just around the corner but I have been lucky enough to find another couple of places that have Barn Owls.
So this year I am hoping to document the different birds that live in different environments capturing my trademark images showing them within their natural habitat of rough grazing, marshland and Norfolk reeds. With the onset of summer around the corner and longer days, the prospect of working with Barn Owls fills me with such joy.
Within my work, habitat, small in the frame and behaviour, form my foundation where I only photograph wild animals, letting people see how and where a certain subject lives and how it conducts its life, so with these images I wanted to show where they live in Norfolk. One site I have known of for many years has a mixture of rough grazing and reeds with small streams and dikes splitting the place into many little areas, perfect for small rodents and perfect for Barn Owls. I photographed using high iso’s to give me enough speed to freeze the bird in flight, at the same time balancing that with the poor light. I love small in the frame images, where there is a real innocence about the image, adding a sense of truth to the image and in turn learning people more about the subject.
My work on Barn Owls will last forever, capturing images for as long as I live. They have such beauty and grace in my eyes, a bird that takes me right back and brings a massive smile across my face, visualizing the great joy that these birds have brought to my life over 3 decades. I hope to bring you more images of this iconic bird over the coming months and even years to come.
My Springtide & Waders Workshops are fully booked until July onwards. My Barn Owl/Raptors One to Ones days can be booked at a time at your convenience now with the weather getting better and the longer days, these days last from dawn until dusk and include a homemade packed lunch made by my wife. I will show you several different sites, go through key fieldcraft skills on how to approach and photograph these birds without disturbing them, as they are protected by law, so great care must always be given to these birds.
I give camera advice, settings, composition and exposing advice for these birds, show you the best flight settings, basically, everything I use myself. Thanks to Nigel for traveling up from Ashford in Kent to Norfolk for a One to One yesterday for Barn Owls. I look forward to seeing your images.
If you would like any advice on anything I have mentioned or touched on here in this blog post then please drop me a line here, alternatively please go to my One To One page. For more than one person there is a discounted rate and I often get couples and friends all attending together. To enquire about free dates please email me, manythanks.
Over the last couple of weeks I have noticed a slight change in the weather, with brighter mornings and lighter evenings. It would seem spring is on its way and maybe upon us very soon. After a long period of poor weather, resulting in low light, it will be most welcomed, with my recent trips to Norfolk and my wildlife workshops at the beautiful Trentham Estate and working on the several projects I am doing in my own time the working conditions have been testing to say the least, but ingrained in me along with a deep love for wildlife is that motto of mine ‘that there is always an image to be had’, however big or small.
However good or bad weather, working with this mindset always rewards you, bringing out your flare and passion in changing conditions at the same time learning you more about how you view an image, pushing your own creative images and boundaries. I have been lucky on a few occasions though where I have been working on several different subjects, when the clouds broke and the area was bathed in warm sunshine. Warmth lifts the spirits and brings places to life and I really think spring now is almost upon us and its the best time of year for me, full of life, action and behaviour. A complete paradise to be among its beauty at this special time of year, witnessing the countryside awaken from its dormant winter state.
The mornings are a wash with bird song at the moment, all competing to be the most musical, filling the air as each bird stakes their claim on a certain patch of ground, among the beautiful songs at dawn one song in particualr symbolizes the British countryside and springtime more than any other call and that belongs to the beautiful male Blackbird. The call travels far, cutting through all other bird songs and is a mixture of different notes and pitches that once you hear its distinctive sound you will never forget the sound.
Spring is one of the four seasons, the period between winter and summer, and for me the words Spring and Springtime bring thoughts of life, birth and regrowth to our countryside. A special time for wildlife, where all species are looking their best, in tip top form hoping to attract the ladies and breed with. Behaviour within the animal world starts in spring, handsome males showing off, displaying to each other in an act of supremacy over the other, using what ever they can to win over the attentions of the females securing a mate for that year. With the lighter mornings and evenings wildlife becomes busy, more active giving greater opportunities to capture its beauty during springtime.
As our Winter visitors leave to go back home to breed the influx of our summer visitors start to slowly arrive to our shores making spring one of the best times in the calendar of nature. I maybe a little early still but from the work I’ve been doing over the last two weeks a change is in the air, alas the odd frostly night and cold morning thrown in to confuse and disorient the wildlife is always on the cards but on the whole winter is behind us all I feel.
The countryside becomes a wash with colours and new growth, a mesmerizing number of birds fill the lands. Flowers start to bloom, eventually carpeting the woodlands in a blue carpet of bluebells, one of the great sites of Britain. Many other flowers suddenly start to appear, muti-coloured and hugely varied in form and shape. A beautiful time of the year where that extra hour of light at either ends of dawn and dusk is very welcome and needed, making the days longer and warming the place for longer. It really is my favourite time of the year.
I have been working on many different subjects, building trust and patience with each species involving many hours waiting. I have two new Dipper sites and my workshops are as popular as ever, the Skomer workshops I do are being booked with the arrival of the “clowns of the sea” as I call them. Any day now the Puffins will arrive now spending 8 months of the year at sea and only 4 months on land, an amazing feat. I have always loved small in the frame images, showing the subjects habitat letting people see where the animal lives and how it conducts its life. The following two image are a male Wren and a male Dipper on the same stretch of river looking in top condition.
While photographing the Dippers at this new site I spent some time watching this male, who had found these logs all gathered together at the side of the river and used them to defend his territory from and sing. I saw him dive into the water and feed and he seemed to be acting differently so I turned on the video on my camera and began filming. About thirty seconds into the film he turned around and in a flash regurgitating a pellet. The contents of a bird’s pellet depend on its diet, but can include the exoskeletons of insects, indigestible plant matter, bones, fur etc, many birds do this to remove such pellets, I have rarely seen this though in Dippers and I was really lucky to have captured it with this short film.
Below I managed to photograph a male Kestrel hunting over marshland over the last few days which is among a large industrial estate, where I think they have started to make a nest, here I used the cover of the reeds to break my shape up at the same time hide my approach clearly showing the estate in the back ground. Something I plan on working on should these birds stay.
There is just so much going on now within the countryside so enjoy this magical time of year where for me there is just not enough time in the day to capture everything I plan working on, I am hoping to capture images from my time spent on the various different species over this beautiful time of year that spring is. This is not always possible though so for me just being there is enough, where I witness a window into a wild animals world.
For details on my workshops, one to ones and the photo trips I run then please contact me here or alternatively view the workshops page for full listings. The Sumatran Orangutans trips itinerary can now be viewed and booked here
All of my photo trips from one to ones right up to the bigger trips are designed and lead from the front by myself, where each trip is designed for wildlife photographers where I pride myself on working with the very best people on the ground and in the field giving that personal and private touch offering all clients the best service possible with smaller group sizes in most cases ensuring all my clients get my full expertise and guidance, learning more about the wildlife and the environment in which they live. Many thanks and good luck with the weather.
And before I go on page 90 of the March issues of the BBC Wildlife magazine you’ll see an advert for a range of clothing called 511 Tactical series, they want me to trail some of their clothing and equipment while on my travels here and abroad. Ray Mears himself an ex-soldier has been using this brilliant clothing for years.
The name “511” represents a gruelling climbing grade as listed in the Yosemite Decimal Grading System, and as a skilled climber myself I’m looking forward to using this clothing and equipment. I’ve spoken with their top UK guy and they are branching out from their American homeland and going for the ‘softer’ approach away from the guns and the body armour etc. They are looking to the outdoor market, walking, camping, survival market and climbing for which it was originally designed for and gets its name from.
I will be using their tactical pants –cotton, tactile Pro pants, tactical Pro long + short sleeved shirts all in green and browns,sand colours, their Rush 72 back pack complete with hydration pack idea for long walks with heavy kit which is the way I work while in the field. A place where you have to rely on your kit to make it just that bit more comfortable, I will update my blog and do a full field test and review when I’ve received the items of clothing and equipment. Their website can be viewed here.
I have spent the weekend in the sleepy, tucked away county of Norfolk, one of my favourite places within the UK. A bounty of diverse birds and wildlife which enrich this area throughout the year, making this a mecca for wildlife loving people. I had clients with me during these two days on One To Ones covering the Spring Tides, Barn Owls and the many other species of wildlife that live along the North Norfolk coast, dominated by the Wash a large area of salt marsh which has one of the greatest concentrations of bird life within the UK, internationally important for many breeding birds and over-wintering wildfowl.
During the two days the weather became testing at times where the the sun stayed hidden behind a wall of cloud for the best part of the two days, just giving us enough light to capture some of the wildlife through photography. With an almost colourless appearance to most of the images from both days I have chosen to present them in a black and white manner or Monochrome as the term is better known, where you have to look further and deeper into an image to see what is captured within its frame.
Devoid of colour the human eye is forced to look right into the image, spending more time in the absence of colour which can often let you know which species is displayed. I have always loved black and white images, glimpses of a bygone era where you wonder in the absence of today’s technology how on earth they managed to capture such wonderful images.
Photography is the art of taking or making photographs, it is the creation of images by exposing film or a computer chip to light inside a camera. The word photography comes from Greek words meaning to write or draw with light. So by presenting these images in a black and white format from a well visited place I visit, it gives a different account of the images I capture during my many visits there during the year. Simple composition and strong elements are key to all photography, more so with black and white, where some images you take and review on the back of the camera will lend themselves very well to this monochrome format.
Black and White Photographs are among one of my favourite styles, both to look at and to create. Shooting for black & white is challenging, you immediately eliminate one of your building blocks of design; Colour. That’s one less tool that you have to compose with. Personally I am drawn to the beauty that is created by black and white and always have been. It makes the viewer focus on the strong compositions, textures and shapes as opposed to symbols, colours. Contrast in photographic composition is an effective means of directing the viewer’s attention to the centre of the interest. The positioning of the subjects elements to create contrast gives them added emphasis and directs the viewer’s attention all brought about in the absence of colour.
A photograph of wildlife on an overcast day can result in a dull photograph, but taking that same scene in black and white will help the viewer to see the contrasts and graphics of that image. Focusing on the emotions of the subject.
I have always said that there is always an image to be had from the moment I picked up a camera , if the main subject does not turn up then never put the camera down. This is the advice I always give to clients. Adopting this attitude and ‘can do’ approach will broaden your own ideas along with your creative style resulting in many interesting and different images from your encounters with nature, while at the same time learning new and exciting techniques within your own photography, which can cross over into many different formats of this discipline.
Animal behaviour is something I love to capture within my work. However simple you can learn so much from wildlife in general and more so the subject you are photographing. This is another ‘learn’ I like to show all my clients and it can make the difference to your photographs on a massive scale. During one of the days at Norfolk we were at one of the sites I know, where the incoming tides flood the gullies and inlets which provide great feeding for many different birds. The Turnstones were busy turning stones, foraging for food, doing all the leg work for often little reward in terms of food.
Black-headed Gulls watched them, perfectly still, not really attracting any attention, then in the next breath bully their way in after the Turnstones had found a food item. These couple of images show one Gull alone, watching a Turnstone feed, break open the mussel shell, for him to come in and steal the prize. I chose to focus on the Gull with the second image clearly showing him watching this poor Turnstone work on this food source he’d found, clearly showing the Gulls intentions.
How wonderful nature is in every form and these simple behaviours are right under our noses alot of the time. Always stay tuned in to where ever you are and never put the camera down. This is the very best advice I can give. My clients over the weekend hopefully went away with this and much more from the One To Ones– Spring Tides, Waders, Barn Owls days I run almost three times a month now throughout the year.
I show clients keys sights, go through their cameras and settings, I also cover fieldcraft, wind direction and the use of natural light, enabling all clients to go home with more tools in their ‘own box’, in turn helping to improve in all aspects of wildlife photography, at the same time showing behaviours in wildlife and the subject in question, looking for impending action and movement, using whats around you to hide and conceal your presence and much more during these action packed days.
If there is anything I have touched on here that interests you or you want any further information on workshops etc then please send me an email here . Thank you to Karl and Ingrid on Saturday and Jonathan on the Sunday for your company and I wish you all well in your photography.
A wilderness journey deep into the pristine fjordlands of Arctic Greenland, travelling unheard and unseen in this world class race yacht, The Polar Bear. This environmentally sensitive photographic adventure provides an opportunity to explore remote arctic valleys, rugged mountain passes, iceberg-filled fjords and the rich summer tundra of this amazing place on earth, at the same time leaving less of a carbon footprint as we sail these beautiful waters.
The Arctic summer is magnificent, for a short season the sun makes endless circles above the horizon bringing a unique light and energy that is shared both sides of the Arctic Ocean. High pressure is usually in charge at this time of year creating more stable weather and for a period of three months or so, we are treated to some of the finest shows on earth.
If you have dreamed of sailing amongst colossal ice-bergs, being surrounded by breaching whales or watching a glacier calve another million tonnes of ice into the ocean, then this amazing 14 day photographic adventure is for you. Polar Bear is not a cruise ship, allowing for the very best opportunities for photography at a much lower perspective, as the yacht sits lower in the water giving you a truly special experience.
Sailing in East Greenland is very far from the ordinary, a landscape which is dominated by jagged mountains and glaciers, dramatic cliffs and enormous ice bergs. Scoresby Sund (70°32’N 24°21’W) which is the the largest fjord system in the world. It is a sea in its own right, 200 miles deep with many linked fjords offering endless exploration. The Sund is frozen and un-navicable in winter, however, a typical summer will allow a few short months for us to get in and absorb the atmosphere.
The timing of this 14 day trip has been specially designed with this in mind where it will give the very best and magical opportunities to everyone on broad. You will see these amazing sites along with the breathtaking wildlife that live in this part of the world, where we will have almost 24 hours of sunlight a day, giving you that magic light a photographer always wishes for. We will have the boat to ourselves as Craig Jones Wildlife Photography has chartered the whole boat along with a small and expert crew to get us into the best places along this magnificent coastline.
One of the main animals we will be looking out for during this trip is the magnificent Polar Bear or Nanuuq as the Eskimos call it in this land of ice and home to this great Arctic wanderer.They spend most of their time at or near the edge of the pack ice, this is where they are most likely to find their food. Due to the very nature and design of our craft will we be able to approach unseen and unheard in most parts where this will have a major effect on the sightings of various different wildlife in this region, Polar bears being one.
This was one of the main reasons for choosing this ship ; The Polar Bear instead of the ice breakers as it will have alot less impact on the environment, with lower carbon emissions, all helping in the fight against climate change and global warming, at the same time not disturbing the wildlife so much as we creep into the sheltered bays and coves, just perfect for wildlife photography. Also as you can see from this video sound travels great distances under the ice where the animals both sea dwelling and land based hear everything.
Being powered by sails will drastically cut down on the noise our ship will make allowing wildlife to act normally in this area without any noise pollution from large turbine- engines. At the same time providing dependable transport and accommodation way beyond the limits of other commercial boats, and very in keeping with my own style of wildlife photography where I like to work the land, photograph only wild animals, approach using fieldcraft, respecting the animal first and foremost, in turn helping them to relax and be less hindered by my presence. This is the aim of this adventure, carrying forward this standard in this very precious and delicate environment.
With the amazing 24 hour light this means we can take full advantage of all opportunities that happen and present themselves to us as a group. Whether that be Polar bears, Walrus on the ice or sailing through spectacular icebergs. We will also explore by zodiac and go ashore to capture the wildlife at the same time see and visit the local Inuit people that live here always under the expert guidance of the crew alongside myself.
Greenland is one of those places that is still slightly untouched. This trip will take you right into the heart of the Arctic Circle. Greenland has around 15 differentspecies of whales that are regular visitors to these Greenlandic waters, but only three of these – the Beluga, Narwhal, Bowhead are most common, with Blue and Killer Whales, also very popular in these food rich waters. During the summer season it is Humpback, Minke and Fin Whale species that can be seen the most, where the blow holes are the first indicator they are around. The crew of the Polar front often witness these amazing animals in these water during the summer months, another major plus for us sitting lower in the water where we will be almost level with them as they surface for air.
The Land of Midnight Sun
Midnight sun can be experienced north of the Arctic Circle for a period lasting from a single day to five months depending on how far north you travel. In central Greenland the sun does not set from the end of May until the end of August. During this period, the soft, warm rays from the low-lying sun make the surrounding scenery appear almost dreamlike; icebergs and hilltops are bathed in a surrealistic palette of pink, purple, yellow and red hues.
This unusual phenomenon is due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis in relation to its orbit round the sun. North of the Arctic Circle it means that the sun can be seen around the clock during the summer months. In contrast, the dark polar nights are characteristic of the region during the winter. In the southerly regions of Greenland that do not lie within the Arctic Circle there is no midnight sun, although the nights certainly do remain light during the summer months.
This amazing adventure can be seen here with links to the ships quarters and layout of the ship. This is where you will live and spend time when not out on deck, watching as we pierce through the sea. It will also show you some information on this ex-round the world racing yacht, giving you the idea of life on broad. The photo tour is for a maximum of 10 people where there are double quarters for couples as well as single spaces for lone travelers.
I feel this trip is very unique and bespoke for the many reasons I have already mentioned and Greenland is becoming a place that is creating great interest around the world so I feel privileged to be leading this photographic trip alongside such a brilliant ship into these Arctic waters. I have had some great interest from many people around the world as well as here in the UK where places are limited to 10 people only. The UK people that book will have a group flight where we all fly out together to Greenland. The guys who’d like to book from other countries can meet us there on the Saturday morning, then we all broad Polar Bear together and head out into the wilderness. For more information please contact me here
“Amongst the higher latitudes, the light, scenery and wildlife seem to work together, providing the perfect ingredients for great photography. We have been lucky enough to visit the most stunning environments you could imagine, encounter whales and dolphins close enough to touch and watch glaciers calve enormous icebergs before our eyes. Photography is a passion held amongst us all and we love sharing what we have seen” .. Harriet Norton – Polar Front
One of the most important tasks for a wildlife photographer is getting to know the subject, spending time watching, listening and looking, learning its behaviour, its habits and calls. In turn all of this will reward you with a far better chance of capturing images that show the subjects natural behaviour. Most, if not all animals show clues that can provide an advance warning of behaviour that will tell a story within your photographs, such as fighting, hunting, and mating. It is also important to recognize the signs of stress within the animal so you know when to stop and leave the animal well alone. The last thing you ever what to do is cause undue stress and disturbance through your actions.
By watching and learning about the subject you get to know their behaviour and any sudden changes so that you can be ready by just observing their behaviour and patterns, which can change in a second, from peaceful to action images in a instance. This observing approach can learn you so much about a subject which will be key to improving your wildlife photography and the images you capture.
There are two approaches when it comes to getting close to nature, the first is to conceal yourself so that the subject does not know that you are there, the second is stalking which takes more time and a lot more skill and patience to master. Many species of mammals and birds will allow you to approach them closely if you are careful and take your time, no fast movements and using the correct techniques. Read the land for yourself, see whats in front of you, in between you and the subject, use natural gulley’s and shapes to break up your approach. Never make the mistake of walking directly towards your subject as the chances are the animal will have long gone.
Your approach needs to be slow and low, watching and listening, as other birds and animals will give your position away should you be seen. Look for dry grass, leaves and gather a small amount in your hands and throw this into the air determining the wind direction. Once you see which way the wind is blowing you can determine your approach better as most animals have a great sense of smell and its the first thing to give you away. The wind always wants to be blowing into your face, this will blow your scent away and remember to forget the aftershave or perfume along with soaps that are high in perfume as these will be picked up from great distances away.
As many animals and birds are very shy and very wary of humans, as a wildlife photographer you need to take great care not to disturb your subject as your aim is to get close to photograph their natural relaxed behaviour, making for a much better image. Getting into place before the sun comes up is also a great tip as you will have been there for a while before the sun comes up and the animal will not see you. Using good fieldcraft skills that I have mentioned will allow you to be able to capture images showing what they are doing, as all animals and birds are most active at dawn and dusk. This image of two fallow Deer was captured just as the sun broke the horizon and I was in place in the dark, set up and settled, which then allowed me to have a view and window into their behaviour and lives.
Is camouflaged clothing really necessary? Many people have asked me this question and for me its part of the fieldcraft package, so the answer is yes. Your shape, white skin exposed, straight lines formed by your body all need to be broken up. It works by letting you blend into the habitat you are working in, so if its snow you need to be white, on the beech the main colours need to be of a sandy colour and so forth. My own experiences and skills that I learnt from my army days have been invaluable and have proven that they are transferable to wildlife photography.
The 3 S’s – Shape, Shine and Silhouette, these need to be broken up, disguised as much as possible changing your physical appearance when you are working the ground as I do within my style of photography. If you are working from a car or hide you still need to have in mind that the subject will still see and smell you, so the need to break up these 3 S’s is paramount in the field. Avoid materials that rustle and its always a must to wear a hat to break up your silhouette along with gloves that cover your hands so light isn’t reflexed back from your exposed bright skin.
Clothing, wind direction, covering the ground, shape, shine, stay low, can all help in capturing those moments in nature where you have to work harder with some animals than others. Some species will accept human presence quicker, taking only hours, where as other more sensitive subjects will take weeks if not months. Its the way I work while capturing wild animals as I like to show them in their natural habitats, composing them to show others how they go about their lives, so correct fieldcraft and camouflaged clothing are an integral part to the way I work. Being at one with nature is amazing and with time and effort and applying good fieldcraft everyone is capable of capturing those beautiful moments I am blessed with seeing each time I enter the natural world.
Alot of the great wildlife photographs you see are as a result of many hours of dedicated and skilled photography, knowledge learned about the subject, fieldcraft applied, patience and perseverance, however, there are many great images that are also the result of a lucky encounter, where fast reactions of the photographer have succeeded in capturing a beautiful moment in time with that added ‘wow’ factor. Regardless of the level of photographic skill you still need to be in exactly the right place at the right time, if you wish to capture a unique photograph from the wild. You will increase your chances of this by spending as much time as you can in the field, watching, looking and listening to mother nature.
That decisive moment when it comes will be very fast and then over before you know it. Where the subject is in the position or the action is at its best, might only be for a split second but by applying all the elements I have mentioned you will be in a prime position to capture that amazing image. By remaining alert at all time you will reduce the chance of missing that killer shot as I call it, and increase your chances of seeing and detecting some aspect of behaviour that could alert you to an impending opportunity.
Thorough planning together with learning as much as you can about the subject you are watching will result in a great improvement within your wildlife photography. Adopt a mindset thatyou must work with whats in front of you, use the ground to your advantage but above all else relax and enjoy. Don’t put any pressure on yourself and the rest will fall into place. Also never mislead people about what you have used to obtain an image, eg- fieldcraft, hide, captive or tame animal, bait/fed, workshop and so forth. A level of integrity and honesty should always be displayed with your work where your own rewards for putting the effort in will be well worth it in the end by developing sites and learning about the land and the animals it supports.
All of the one to ones, workshops and photo trips that I run touch on all of the aspects of improving your wildlife photography, where fieldcraft is one of the major factors in producing lovely images of animals that live in the wild. I wish you luck and remember always to respect wildlife the images are always second to their needs.
If you would like any further help or advice on any of the topics I have raised then please feel free to send me an email here
The first Spring Tides of 2011 graced the Norfolk coastline this weekend with its customary mix of dramatic weather conditions and amazing ariel displays as thousands of waders, mainly Knot twisting and turning as the incoming sea covers the land forcing them into the air. The effect this gives is amazing, one minute its a wall of dark and then the next a wall of white, twisting, turning like a massive fish out of the water. The Spring Tides only really happen around 3-4 times a month and in some months, like December, there weren’t any at all. When the sea comes in and covers the whole area forcing the birds closer to shore, they gather together for protection and by doing so form stunning shapes and patterns.
I was in Norfolk for the Spring Tides over two days, running One To Ones. On the first day, Friday, the light in the morning was amazing, beautiful colours with small clouds giving the place that summers morning feel. As the light came up thousands of birds were flying around, forming vast flocks, twisting and turning, all in perfect harmony with each other, creating a smooth fluid movement, which is breathtaking to watch. Anyone who witnesses this does so in sheer amazement that something so beautiful happens on our own shorelines during the year.
Once the sea has consumed all the land the birds fly around in an almost panic state before settling into the pools or pits as they are better known in front of the hides there. These offer them a safe place to roost in, rest and relax until the spring tide starts to retreat, exposing the vast areas of mudflats, where the sea has replenished the whole area with food brought in by the incoming tides. Its then you get to see their numbers and sheer power, feeling the force as they take off from these pools, the noise is amazing and the sheer power of one of natures most amazing spectacles has to be seen to believed.
The light had faded a little, with the sun coming out one mintue then returning behind the clouds the next. As we watched with great anticipation as the Knot slept, heads tucked into their wings, sleeping, waiting for the signal to return back to the vast mudflats where they can roost far out to sea. The photograph above shows this behaviour as thousands of Knot all sleep, huddled together forming these vast groups, occasionally the air was filled with them all calling, chattering to each other, moving, others flying in, swelling their numbers. Sometimes the wait is long then next it is short, but when it happens its amazing. I had a sequence of one to ones with a few people during these days in Norfolk and the second group had never seen this event, which made it even more enjoyable. So as we all waited, apertures ready, enough shutter speed to freeze this moment, fine tuning everything for that moment they take off, something I have witnessed many times over the years, where each time you see something different, then with no warning, no introduction, they go.
Birds start to take off as the others wait on the ground for their turn to join their group and return to the sea. Peeling off , perfectly timed formations take to the air back to where they belong, the power and force can be felt as you sit in the hides. With the photograph above I wanted to convey this moment, how some birds wait for their turn while others have already taken off, following each other back to the safely of the sea, a truly amazing site within our wonderful wildlife in this country.
Then with only the last few birds to leave the land, the sky is full, thousands, upon thousands of birds take off, a shiver always goes down my spine upon seeing this, such is the power and beauty of this event. After which a hot coffee is a must to warm you and reflect on what we just saw. I then head around the coastline showing the clients the various places I visit, capturing images, going through techniques and helping everyone take better images, where at the same time seeing and learning what amazing wildlife we have around us and how they live their lives.
I also have a few Barn Owl sites I visit and work on. During the day I show clients this area hoping that they turn up, as many people have never seen one of these amazing birds which are one of my favourite species. Then right on time, they arrive from know where, hunting the ground, they then disappear in a flash giving you a brief insight into how they hunt and go about their lives.
I have been running these great days now for sometime, where each month there are a few dates that this amazing event happens so if you wish to make an enquirey or book, then send me an email here and I will get back to you with dates,spaces etc. These One To Ones can be run on an individual basis or as a group. Big thank you to all the nice people I met this weekend, Roise, Martin, Stuart, Marjan.
I have just returned from a wonderful week on the beautiful island of Mull in Scotland. The island lies on the west coast of Scotland and it has a breathtaking coastline of 300 miles. The climate is a mixture of rain and sunshine, and from the moment you step onto this beautiful island the wildlife is everywhere, and the scenery is stunning. The island is a wonderful place to see Golden Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, Otters, porpoises and a whole host of Hebridean Wildlife. My main aim was to capture through photographs the UK’s only species of Otter; the European Otter-Lutra lutra that live on this island.
Firstly, I spent two days at Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, a spectacular 1,400 acre wild reserve situated on the north Solway coast of Scotland with clients on one to one’s. During our winter months this area becomes home to the whole Svalbard breeding population of Barnacle Geese, where some of the best views of this great wildlife spectacle can be seen from the hides within this beautiful place on the north west coast of the UK.
The weather was a mixture of cloudy and sunny weather where both days the temperature struggled to pass freezing point, the pools that the birds use to drink from were frozen and many of the Geese were using neighbouring fields to feed from, the centre has two daily feeds. They feed the Whooper Swans and the many other species of birds with a supplement feed consisting of grain, seeds and potatoes. The Whoopers also spend their winters with us before heading back to their breeding grounds in eastern and western Iceland. Whooper Swans are highly vocal, with sonorous bugling calls, used during aggressive encounters, with softer “contact” noises used as communication between paired birds and families.
It was a great two days with lots of good sightings of Barnacle Geese, which were on our most wanted list to see. We had to travel a little away from the centre to catch up with them but were rewarded with a few shots of them feeding in the nearby fields before heading off to their over night roost sites on the Solway. After the two days I then headed north, tackling the 326 miles drive to the port of Oban ready for my morning crossing to the island of Mull.
As I set off for Oban the weather looked fine and I was looking forward my morning ferry to Mull. An hour from Oban and I drove into what was little snow at first, but as the miles counted down on my sat nav the snow became thicker and covered the road in front of me. However, I was so determined to reach my destination. It turned into a blizzard with inches of snow on the roads making driving harder, the ascent into Oban was hard with abandoned vehicles everywhere, motorists were stranded on all the main roads in and out of Oban.
The police were out helping to dig cars out and in general doing a great job in the absence of any gritters. I wanted to help the many people just walking around and stuck in their cars but the police just wanted the traffic to keep moving. In 2 hours, 7 inches of snow fell wreaking havoc and shutting all roads into Oban, I had just managed to get through and finally got to my hotel at around 10pm, a journey that was to take 3 hours and 10 minutes on my sat nav turned out to be over 5 hours. The cup of tea and free biscuits in my hotel room that night never tasted so good.
From the moment you leave the ferry at Craignure the vast space and amazing landscape of Mull is evident straight away. Vast, snowy peaks litter the sky line dwarfing the landscape below, a place I truly love.
The main subject I aimed to work on in the days ahead, was the European Otter, whos population in Britain suffered a significant decline from the late 1950s to the end of the 1970s. By then the Otter was absent throughout England, rare in Wales and was only found in numbers in the north and west of Scotland. The probable cause of this crash in numbers was because of the use of toxic agricultural chemicals which are now banned, this drained into rivers and accumulated in the bodies of the animals through their prey of fish.
In response to its fast decline the Otter was given full protection under UK law in 1978, recent studies have shown a significant recovery in numbers, where both government and voluntary organizations are involved with the protection of this species, which has now become a symbol of the great efforts from many conservation movements in saving this beautiful animal. I wanted to spend as much time as I could watching this animal and hopefully document their behaviours during my short trip to this magical island.
Because of the vast size of Mull and the lochs, sometimes the best option for seeing these very elusive animals is to drive around on the off chance you may see a silhouette of an Otter feeding or moving on the rocks. I have done this in the past but on this trip I wanted to find a place they where using and wait, using all my fieldcraft skills to become part of their landscape where their sense of smell and hearing is amazing. On my first day there I vistied two lochs that I know of, where I have previously witnessed Otters and cubs. I chose one of the sites and went back for the rest of the first day.
Whenever I visit a new or old place within nature I always just sit and watch, look for signs, droppings, ensuring that I’m out of site with no camera, no pressure, staying low, placing every foot print carefully so not to make a sound, testing the wind direction, breaking up my appearance with camouflaged clothing and with no white skin exposed, as this reflects light and gives you away, but for me the moment you break an animals horizon its game over, whatever you are wearing, so the need to stay low and present no silhouette is very important and key to my fieldcraft, without using a hide or car in the hope of trying to get a feel of a place.
I settled into a little inlet, where at high tide the sea came in really close and at low tide expose the lovely colourful seaweed covering the jet black rocks forming the coastline. I had seen signs of Otters, broken mussel shells with a single puncture hole and the meat taken cleanly out with great ease leaving the in tact shells littering a high vantage point. I know the Otters can hunt great distances but saw many black droppings and fish bones on this place telling me that I needed to stay here. So I did, getting myself into place before dawn each day, laying on the very slippery rocks for 7 hours a day without moving, my back was protected and covered by a line of rocks behind me, I had a great vantage point out onto the loch with the high tide water just touching my boots.
Tucked into the rocks, presenting the smallest target you could imagine, I waited, bending my frame to fill the steps and contours of the rocks, two days passed after which time you become so tuned into a place every plop, every noise, every dive from a bird you hear you immediately look with great excitement, this for me is one of the best things about wildlife photography, the peacefulness of waiting, the minutes turning into hours, all the time waiting for just that one moment in which you get a view into a wild animals world where the camera enables me to capture what I see, capturing the beauty of the subject, perserving the moment forever.
With every passing hour, sat motionless, you see so many other species of wildlife and over time you become accustomed to their presence and own individual behaviours, they become your friends, keeping you company, ready for the main event should they turn up. With Mull’s famous own micro-climate the weather changes from clear skies to angry skies in a moment, pouring rain gives in to calm, windless conditions, light you dream of as a photographer is replaced with almost zero visibility. I use a layers system when staying put in one place for some time, breathable under garments, covered with warm natural fibres finished of with rustle-free, waterproof clothing, this lets me take anything mother nature throws at me at the same time my camera and lens has two covers.
The first two days were long, traveling the 40 minutes from my accommodation to the loch on snow covered tracks. Great care was needed. Seeing this landscape awaken is so special with each day you witness these dawns really does make you feel alive. I got into place each morning as the new dawn was breaking. In the distance the massive peaks of the mountains looked down on me, the beautiful light choosing when and where it showed up that given day.
Two and a half days had passed when my luck changed, two Otters to my right breaking cover and feeding on something they had caught, slowly I moved my camera, a drill I had gone through many times before practising the turning arch of the tripod, assessing the ground to my front and what I could cover with the least movement as possible. The Otters could not smell me as there was no wind or ripples on the water. As they fed I waited, they dropped down behind a large rock they had come out on. I choose to stay put as chasing wildlife is never an option for me.
Then in a flash she was there, I let off two shots very slowly as not wanting to cause her any disturbance, she seemed to stand her ground for a moment, unable to make out what was making this slight noise made by my shutter. Then she got into the water and began swimming towards me, I could not believe what I was witnessing, two extremes, days with nothing then in a flash a wild European Otter coming towards me.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envision a wild Otter swimming towards me so boldly, checking out what I was, nestled into the rocks. She became almost too close too focus on with my long lens, right on the threshold of the minimal focusing distance. I turned to portrait when she popped up from a deep dive, coming up and standing in a real proud stance for a few seconds, smelling the air desperately trying to make out what was making this noise. When things happen this quick you react on pure instinct so my thoughts at the time was that I just wanted to capture something of this magical experience.
Seconds later she went back into the water and started to swim to my left, I followed the trail of bubbles as she dived deep, surfacing only for air. Seconds later she popped up, hanging onto rocks, forcing her body out of the water in a strong vertical line, again to see what I was, just amazing and again acting on pure adrenaline I slowly let off a few shots wanting to capture this moment but at the same time reading her behaviour and not wanting to spook her. This beautiful, sleek, silent hunter, moving with ease and grace through the water was suddenley out and crawling forward towards me on the rocks, just amazing.
My heart beat was bursting, I could feel the beats in my neck as she slowly moved up the rocks where I was able to compose her so that all images are full frame, she was that close. What seemed like minutes was in fact seconds and she ventured no further and went back into the water, heading off to fish, her distance trail of air bubbles leading my eyes off into the distance. I waited until almost darkness but I never saw her again that day. I returned the following day and again no sightings. I still could not believe what I had seen that day, this shy, mainly solitary animal coming this close to me.
Otters are mainly nocturnal and hunt in open, marshy places, rivers, lakes, seashores and estuaries. They will often travel a long way overland, from one river system to another, in search of food. They are strong, agile swimmers and catch fish by chasing them underwater, the European Otters that choose to live in and around our coastline are slightly bigger than their river dwelling ones and have adapted very well to this testing environment appearing bigger when you first see them but they are the same species. For the slightly smaller version that live in our rivers, streams they are mainly active at night which makes sightings of them harder, fishing in and around fish farms, campsites etc, clear evidence can be seen when you walk around and look at the water inlet areas where they regularly patrol their territory, marking it here and there with droppings called ‘spraints’. These have a scent which tells other Otters that the territory is already occupied.
As the days passed, looking and waiting to see Otters, I decided to change tack and the following day I went walking. I wanted to try and capture wild Red Deer as they are very hard to get near to outside of their park habitat where you can witness and see them during the year. The morning mist was heavy as I set off walking towards a few of the peaks that dominate this islands skyline. As I ascended further up the mist seem to become even more thicker I did however see a lone Red Deer Stag but he vanished as quick as he appeared.
I went into nearby woods hoping the mist would clear alittle and photographed the different sizes and shapes of the large majestic conifer trees, using a slow shutter speed capturing the different colours and patterns of the straight lines of countless trees all in rows.
Giving a very arty effect from a simply technique. The mist was clearing a little, so out came my OS map, and I carried on walking up on the path, now able to make it out again. With the thawing of the snow and the temperatures rising above freezing, there was a lot of water heading down bank causing waterfalls. I’d often come across many waterfalls bursting with rain water, their power and size truly inspiring within this landscape.
I could see a natural clearing in front of me, the light was really poor, so I decided to get my flask out and have a cup of tea, upon taking my bag off I heard a noise, so I got my camera out and just stopped and listened, tuned into the habitat, listening to any alarm calls from wildlife to tip me off to what was about. In the next breath this young male Red Deer appeared from the mist, standing there for a few seconds, making powerful eye contact with me, a couple of images and he was gone quicker than I could blink. I cannot see or make out where he had gone so carried on making the all important, morale boosting hot, sweet cup of tea and a kit-kat my treat for the walk.
Another beautiful encounter I had been privileged to see and come across. As the mist was clearing I carried on but found no more wildlife until I was descending, again coming a cross a lone Red Deer stag just below me, again a few shots in the poor light and this big fellow went and disappeared.
The week was almost over, time does fly and I would be sad to leave Mull so on the last day I spent 7 hours at the Otter site again. The trip was well worth all the effort for that one magical encounter I had. A special and magical moment I will never forget. I have many encounters with wildlife using my fieldcraft etc but this one will never be forgotten as my time on the island was coming to an end.
I will be returning to the island again before my Magic Of Mull photo tour in June with a second trip added in October for the autumnal colours and the Red Deer rut. Many thanks to the lovely people I met during my stay there and a big hello to you all.
As 2010 leaves us and a new year begins I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year and all the best in the four coming year. Now that the holiday period is over and the snow has melted in most areas it was nice to get out with the camera to blow the cob webs of Christmas off at the same time break in my new walking boots I had received as a present. A walk around the Peak District in better conditions than before Christmas was the perfect taster for the trips and workshops coming up.
I love the vast open moorland and the views on a clear winters day are just stunning, and as ever the Red Grouse where out in numbers calling, patrolling their territories in the morning light, always on the look out for a female. Beautiful birds I love spending time with watching and listening to their calls.
I am heading to Scotland soon, to photograph some of the animals that live in and around this area over several days working the land, watching, listening, looking for clues using my skills and fieldcraft to capture wildlife in this amazing part of the UK. If and when I can I will update my blog before heading home.
I have had some great interest in the Sumatran Orangutans trip in September so thank you to all those interested in this very different trip which is more remote and totally different then its neighbour Borneo. Also my trip to Greenland- Arctic Adventure 2012 is almost ready where I have chartered a whole ex-racing yacht to head up to Greenland and Turner Island to see and photograph Polar bears, Whales and so much more living and operating from this ex-round the world racing yacht during our 14 day trip. It will be an amazing adventure and something very different where the wildlife will not hear our approach, add to this a lower point of view almost level with the sea making for a perfect platform for wildlife photography.
I have one place left on my Tigers trip in May- Tigers Of India, witness this amazing animal in the wild, and just a quick reminder that I have 3 limited edition Tigers prints where 50% of the profit goes directly to helping Tigers around the world through the charity 21 Century Tiger who spend every penny raised on helping this amazing animal survive around the globe.
There are a few places left on my Masia Mara Migration trip also so if these or any of my other trips, one day workshops interest you then just contact me here for more details. Big thanks to all those who have booked and I look forward to meeting you all in the coming weeks and months and helping you improve your wildlife photography at the same time learning you more about the wildlife around you and how to capture the things you see, so all the best and many thanks