Entries in the ‘Advice On Wildlife’

A Beautiful Day

Filed in Advice On Wildlife, Places Of Interest, Wildlife on Jul.15, 2011

An early start to photography the Red Grouse this week turned into a lovely close encounter with a family of these iconic moorland birds.  I begin my ascent in the dark, where your visibility is lessened in the absence of any natural light, as the sun hadn’t risen above the horizon yet. Having lost your clear vision heightens your other senses, your ears become better at hearing, more in tune as I call it with the environment, your sense of smell increases, as every step you take is carefully placed. You pick out a prominent feature in the direction you are travelling and focus to the left or right of that subject and that’s how you see and navigate yourself in the dark.

Reaching the plateau the ascent levels out a little, it is a welcome sight and what greets you is miles, upon miles of rocky outcrops littering the moorland.  Its home to specialized animals that have evolved and adapted to living in this hostile environment.  They live through the most testing weather conditions that Mother Nature can through at them.  On this day though the sun was rising over the valley below, slowly warming and filling the place with light. With that nature awakens, birds begin to call, distance calls, close calls echo around the place and for me it is truly the best time of the day as everything begins to wake up around you.

It’s one of the best times to photograph wildlife as the light is softer, less harsh and adds so much to an image. The wildlife can be more trusting at this time of day and you must never betray that trust in order to get an image. If you use your fieldcraft skills, watch and listen and respect the subject, they will settle once that trust is gained. You then can carry on always mindful of your advance and approach and the welfare of the subject. If the subject shows signs of distress, is defending their territory at your presence then you’ve gone to far.

Once the sun had come up, the colours of the moorland popped out, turning a black and white landscape into a colourful one, blooming with colours all warmed by the sun.  I saw a few Grouse in the distance, their bubbling call so unique within the bird world. In the distance I saw a lone Mountain Hare, feeding in their brown summer coats. With the onset of winter these hares change to their white winter coats, which makes them almost invisible within this landscape. This is very important as there are many raptors that patrol these areas, so they have perfectly adapted to their habitat with the changing seasons and different weather, how wonderful nature is.

Between myself and the hare there was open ground, so I used the lay of the land to advance. The wind was in my favour, blowing away any slight noise as I placed my feet down on the ground, at the same time blowing my scent away.  Hares have an amazing sense of smell and hearing so the pursuit of such animals is fruitless if your fieldcraft is poor and you don’t use what’s around you to your own advantage here in the Peak District.

Once I was happy, I managed to see two, as the other was hugging the ground feeding, I let a few shots off and they stood up on their hind legs to see. I stopped everything, turned myself into a low-lying bush, and this image below was that first contact I had with these two hares. They had heard my camera noise but just couldn’t make out where it was from, I took a few more slow, single shots and they settled and carried on feeding. While this was going on I could hear the distinctive calls of Red Grouse in the distance so I said goodbye to the Mountain Hare and advanced towards the calls.

I always try to move slowly, all the time watching and listening as I always say that nature will let you know what’s around you, she can also be your first indication that something is wrong as alarm calls can ring out at any time, letting other animals know there is danger around, more so you’ve been spotted, if so stop, go to ground and wait. I did that here behind this set of rocks when this Red Grouse came from nowhere. I watched, perfectly still, hoping my slight movement hadn’t disturbed this Grouse as I was really close.

I captured the bird yawning, it made no sound what so ever, unlike their call.  Afterwards the grouse came from the protection of the rocks and picked away at the heather shoots. The light was amazing and lit up the colours of these beautiful birds really well, the background was the valley below, some 600m beneath me. With such close encounters involving a wild animal going about its life you feel your heart rate greatly increase, you go into auto mode, trusting the settings and routine you’ve practised many times before along with the element of luck on your side.

I stayed put among these large rocks and within no time a whole family of Red Grouse came out from cover. Mum, Dad, and several excitable youngsters.  Mum and Dad were constantly on guard, watching for any sign of predators, then they’d disappear back to the safety of the stones and rocks.

I had a privileged ten minutes watching this family, the youngsters all happy to be out from cover, their tireless energy on show, up and down on these rocks, flapping and exercising their wings building strength and confidence. It was really funny to watch at the same time very enduring to witness.  They all started to walk off, coming down from the high vantage points of the rocks, they slowly disappeared from view and that was the last I saw of that family.

A beautiful encounter among this stunning landscape, where you can see no one the whole time you are there, giving you a sense of true wilderness, something I love to be among, photographing the beautiful and stunning wildlife.  Sometimes that beauty is hard for me to put into words.  I hope this recent slideshow of a few beautiful moments I captured in the wild, put together and arranged alongside the tempo of this music will help.

 


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Barn Owl

Filed in Advice On Wildlife, Wildlife on Oct.21, 2010

Over the last couple of days the weather seems to have become a little colder which results in those frosty, sunny mornings I love, where the cold hits the back of your throat  while at the same time the sun comes up and bathes the countryside in a beautiful warm glow. Most of my wildlife photography is where I like to work the land, finding whats around me and the areas I visit, tracking through foot prints and waste food and droppings trying to build a picture in my head what has passed by or has visited recently.  So over the last few days I have had a break from the Deer Rut and have been walking in my local countryside not to far from my Staffordshire home.  A lot of the countryside at the moment has been harvested meaning sort, rough grazing and grass, crop etc ideal for one of my favorite UK birds, the Barn Owl.

While out walking over the last few days my attention was drawn to a few feathers, one a primary and the others being belly or flank feathers softer in appearance than the primary, white in appearance and in and around a prominent natural perch I had come across.  There was also white droppings at the base telling me this was a popular perch maybe for a Barn Owl,  I found a few small pellets or a mass of hair as they looked and upon separating them, something I loved to do as a child, tiring to rebuild the skeleton to found out what the prey was.  I found a small set of bones and a jaw bone from a tiny rodent and I knew then that this area and perch were being used by a Barn Owl.

And here he was, with primary/secondarie feathers missing in his wing, the sunrise was amazing with a small blanket of frost all over the ground, not a bad frost but just enough to give that crunch sound under foot when walking, which by the way is not great when you are stalking a wild animal. I have spent a few days there and have watched this male hunt, he seems to have appeared from knowhere, as often Barn Owls do outside of the breeding season as they can become quit nomadic, wondering the countryside on the lookout for prey.

Amazing birds that I call the Ghost due to the fact without warning and no clue they can just turn up, hunt for a few minutes make eye contact with you as 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 Owls are fascinating creatures and anytime I spend with these amazing birds is priceless.  I have been back a couple of times and been able to capture him a few more times, I do feel with no sightings in the past here he may just be passing through so in the meantime its a very welcome treat for me among my other projects I am working on at present including;  Mountain Hares, Short-eared Owls and my little female Kingfisher on the river Trent. 

My advice would be to walk the land and watch and look for clues of whats around and you maybe surprised at what you find as this time of year so much wildlife is on the move in readiness for the oncoming winter.  This for me is the true meaning of fieldcraft a word I hear used alot within wildlife photography, but fieldcraft means to use whats around you, reading the clues and signals all animals leave behind where most if not all the clues are right there all you have to do is just look that bit closer. 

Your reward will be something you have seen and learned all about yourself and when the subject appears as did this Barn Owl its a great moment as you view a moment in their lives something I truly love.  Its one of the main things I teach and show on my One To Ones and Workshops in order for the client(s) to take this skill away with them.  So they can apply this in their own photography and get close to wildlife without impacting on the subjects life. If you would like any further advice or help on anything I have raised then please send me an email here many thanks.


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Contact With Nature

Filed in Advice On Wildlife, Places Of Interest on May.26, 2010

Humans have spent many thousands of years adapting to natural environments, yet have only inhabited urban ones for relatively few generations,Whilst those individuals living in an urban envoriment who seek out parks and gardens appear to understand the personal health and well-being benefits arising from a Contact With Nature’,tapping into this vital resource that nature provides.As more people survive to older age, and as patterns of living,working,feeding have changed,diseases such as coronary heart disease,diabetes and cancer have come to dominate our population.Where mental, behavioural and social health problems are increasing in this time of great change in the way we live our life’s.The answer for me is one I have benefited from since a small child and that is a ‘Contact With Nature’ .

Male Red Fox In Bluebells

Studies of ecology, biology, psychology and psychiatry have attempted to examine the human relationship within the natural world, some concluding that as well as being totally dependent on nature for material needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) humans also need nature for psychological, emotional and spiritual needs.Yet how dependent humans are on nature for psychological and well-being needs, and what benefits can be gained from interacting with nature are just beginning to be investigated by experts around the world.

Bluebell Wood

The healing effects of a natural view are increasingly being understood in stressful environments such as hospitals, nursing homes,military etc. In these environments particularly, as well as for people who work in windowless offices, studies show that seeing nature is important to people and is an effective means of relieving stress and improving their well-being,so in this time of stress the only real answer to help us is in getting back to nature,having contact when and where we can and tapping into these ‘Green lungs’ that our parks,fields,reservoirs play within our urban,city lives.

Arty Bluebells

I live within an urban environment in Staffordshire,where from a small child I was able to find these, little ‘Green Lungs’ within that world,in which unknowing to myself at the time, were helping me,my contact with nature building a love,a empathy towards the natural world,and in turn the world I lived in.There is a place known locally as ‘Bluebell Wood’ where I have visited as a youngster,playing tree houses,soldiers,hide and seek etc, right through to the present day as an adult.Its an old coppice of woodland,made up of  hazel, magnificent beech, elegant silver birch and ancient oak forming the backbone to this wood.
Beneath their foliage they shelter a vast carpet of native bluebells which have taken several centuries to reach perfection. The intense azure haze and glorious heady scent from these beautiful, elegant flowers is one of the chief delights of the English countryside and a truly unforgettable sight.Its a place I go too,often finding myself just sitting,laying down and listening to nature,the corus of birds signing their hearts out,the distance noise of urban life occasionally piercing the silence of this magical place.

Bluebells In Sunlight

Over the last year I have been trying to capture a family of Foxes that I caught abrief glimpse of last year while visiting this place.Giving me the slip everytime I tracked them down, through foot prints,tracks,smells etc.As quick as I’d find their den,they’d move to another. I’ve had this relationship with this family of Foxes now for over a year,and to this day it bring a big smile to my face, as trying to capture a wild Red Fox away from rubbish bins,street corners is very hard I have found.I have used my many,many trips to this place to build a picture of their lives and behaviour’s and just as I getting somewhere the famous dog walk comes around the corner and breaks that silence and trust I have built up,in turn making the Fox really sensitive to disturbance.

The den is under a thick,dense tree line,making for poor light,but I have been able to find a way in, almost disappearing within the stinging nettles,and thorny vegetation this Fox family have chosen to live in,affording them a private world only available at ground level.Over the last week I have observed their cubs coming out and playing,most of the time to dense for a photograph.With several holes into the den its been a trail and error exercise for me to place my hide where I think they will appear while moving at a snails pace,most of the time though they outwitt me!!.This week I have been lucky as the cubs are getting more bolder and don’t see my hide which I have left there now for weeks,each time I return to the hide, the adult foxes have covered it in their distinctive ‘Smell’ which after several hours makes your noise and eyes run its so strong,nice to know they’ve ‘accepted’ my hide though. The male Red Fox can been send above with the beautiful Bluebells as the backdrop.

Fox Cub

Fox Cub

Often as a Wildlife photographer you wait on the off chance for a wild animal to linger in front of your lens longer enough to be able to get a decent picture of that special moment,placing a ‘Frame’ around what you have seen,showing this to others so in turn the picture of Wildlife around us becomes clear to them.This is the essence for me what Wildlife Photography means.Where my unique philosophy when it comes to Wildlife Photography that was derived from those early encounters with nature,where being at ‘One’ with nature to get the best from your subject is key, also helping your well-being in terms of this encounter with the natural world.

In my conclusion on the topics I have mentioned in this post,and as our understanding of the natural environment has developed, and the massive destruction human activities can have on natural systems has been observed, a more clearer view has emerged. This view recognizes that plants and animals,including humans do not exist as independently as was once thought, but instead are part of complex and interconnected ecosystems on which they are entirely dependent.The ‘ecosystem’ is the fundamental point on which all life is dependent.It is clear that nature and the natural environments relate to human health and well-being.Where that’ Contact With Nature’ is key to un-locking the door to human well-being and happiness, where my advice would just be simple,seek out these ‘Green Lungs’ within your place of work or where you live,learn and watch nature,through the changing seasons as they come and go,look out for whats happening around you,the noises,the smells etc and in turn it will enrich your life more than you can imagine.

CJWP


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National Nestbox Week 14th -21st February 2010

Filed in Advice On Wildlife, Events on Feb.05, 2010

NNBW

National Nest Box week organised by The British Trust for Ornithology takes place this year from the 14th to 21stFebruary. Since its launch in 1998 over five million nest boxes have been made and hung in gardens and woodland areas across the UK.In an attempt to help birds ranging from the Blue Tit right up to Barn Owls to find somewhere else to nest and raise their young in the absence of more natural nest sites in our ever diminishing countryside.Early spring is the best time to site your nestbox,giving the birds a chance to see and get use to the box,if they don’t use your nestbox to nest in then don’t be saddened as there is a very high chance they will use the box as a roost site during the winter months.

bto

There will be events staged all around the UK by the BTO during that week and it’s a great way to get youngsters involved with nature.Click here for the BTO home page to see whats happening in your local area.Whether you’re a family with space for a box in your garden, a teacher, a member of a local wildlife group, or you belong to a bird club and could organise a work party, National Nest Box Week gives you the chance to contribute to the conservation effort in the UK whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your garden.

Where you put your box is every bit as important as what it looks like.  The highest priority when siting a nest box must be to provide a safe and comfortable environment in which birds can nest successfully.Ensure your nest box is sheltered from prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight,The front of the nest box should be angled vertically or slightly downwards to prevent rain from entering the nest box.And the most important point is to ensure that it is not easily accessible to predators (cats and squirrels) which can more difficult than you’d think.Ideally keeping the opportunities for these predators to get close to the boxes to a minimal.

For a free information pack please click here and fill in your details.If you’d like to purchase a nestbox then click here.Many thanks.

Robin


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Wildlife Photography- My Tips

Filed in Advice On Wildlife, Photography Tips on Nov.30, 2009

 
Nature and wildlife photography is challenging but extremely rewarding,the creative side of things is a great challenge but also a lot of fun. If you like animals and learning about their characteristics and habitats then this photography is for you.Do your homework first!,taking the time to learn about the animal or subject is likely to pay off for you in creating opportunities for some great shots. Learning about an animal’s behaviour and routine will allow you to plan the best time for you to capture them. I tell people that learning about your subject is by far the most important discipline in wildlife photography far more important than the make of camera or equipment you use.With the weather in your favour you can capture nature in stunning light at dawn and dusk.
 
Avocet
 
  
Dusk
 
 
Don’t forget that patience really is a virtue when it comes to wildlife photography. Don’t expect to go outdoors and immediately find the creature of your choice,don’t expect it to stand still for you.,quite often the photographer has to wait in a un- comfortable spot for some time until there are signs of life. Animals cannot be forced to appear, or to stay for your pictures. All you can do is work with the situation when it is presented to you and be as fast and efficient as possible.When using a telephoto lens, use a higher shutter speed even if you are outdoors,a longer lens requires a decent shutter speed in order to get a sharp image and you may only have one opportunity. Also to help the sharpness of the image, choose a decent ISO, at least 400 since you will be dealing with a moving image.I teach people when and where possible to always use  Aperture priority– F4,F5.6,F8,F11 are the key ones to use.Focus on the eye of the subject every time,birds in flight focus on the centre of the body between the wings @F8
 
Buzzard
   

 Time of day

Although there are times where you may want to try night time wildlife photography,the chances are you will mostly be working in the day.Each situation is different but it is better to avoid the bright afternoon sun (unless it is a cloudy day) and the bright sun can affect how the camera interprets the image,animals may also hide away when it is too hot, looking for shade. As the sun goes down, you can also be treated to amazing light but you must remember to use a tripod because low light will result in camera shake without proper support. Different creatures may be accessible at different times of the day so bear this in mind

Composition

There are no hard and fast rules on composition although the general consensus is –get close.Check the background to make sure that it is interesting but not fighting for attention from the main subject,small distractions make a big difference to photographs and if you are trying to use the images for sale or a competition, you will definitely need to check there are no unwanted items in the picture. One of the most popular ‘rules’ in photography is the Rule Of Thirds,It is also popular amongst artists, It works like this:
Imaginary lines are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, You place important elements of your composition,”the subject” where these lines intersect, the diagram below shows you these 

Grid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Compositon of the subject should be placed on one of the four inter-sections as shown in the diagram      

Shown here perfectly with this Brown Hare running towards me and right on one of these inter-sections

Hare 

 Most of us will have Wildlife around where we live or have some kind of park where wildlife is rife. This doesn’t mean that they are any easier to shoot though! the key is being very patient and quiet, and remember to use a long lens.To begin with you may want to visit a zoo or bird sanctuary where the animals are tame or you can set up a bird table and put plenty of seeds on it and place the table close to where you want to shoot. If you sit there quietly waiting, sooner or later nature will appear. A 500mm lens is ideal if you want to crop out most of the background and frame the subject tightly. These lenses are very expensive so there is nothing from stopping you from using the lens you have and cropping the image down afterwards (although you will lose some quality).Morning or afternoon light is ideal for wildlife photography,It is bright but not harsh, morning light can have a beautiful,warmth to it that adds a dramatic effect,and animals can be stunning  in this light – if you are shooting in your garden then you will probably attract some standard animals and birds, In this case, remember to be very observant,don’t just shoot mindlessly, look at what the animal/bird is doing that is interesting,is it drinking or eating?

Water droplets are nice to capture, so make sure you put out clean,fresh water for them. Photographing the birds landing and take off in your garden is brillant, capturing the movement of the wings looks stunning when done right,and looks so dramatic and beautiful.If you are trying to capture a bird in flight, you want to use the continous servo auto-focus feature on your camera since it will be too fast for you to focus on manually, combined with this function, where the camera will take photographs one after the other, you are more likely to get a good shot. If you take the time to study the birds behaviour and patterns then you may be able to accurately predict the place where the bird will fly to, so you could pre-focus on that spot and wait for the bird to pass through the next time.

Red Deer

And where possible try to get as  level with the subjects eye(s) to give you a more level point of view and I feel making for a much better and balanced image as shown above

Summary

All in all, shooting wildlife and nature is both an extremely rewarding but a difficult task. The pictures you see in magazines and in adverts are not shot on a magic whim,they are most likely the result of many hours of investment,someone had to wait for the right weather conditions in the right spot possibly for days in order to capture the best shot. Patience is absolutely the key to getting good pictures of any type of creature.Don’t forget to select the best tools you can afford. If you are focusing on animals you may want to buy a telephoto lens first, If you are interested in plants and insect you may want a macro lens, It is always useful to have a standard lens, something that covers the 50mm mark, whether it is fixed focal or zoom, with a standard lens you can always choose a macro lens or less expensive alternatives such as an extension tube, which can work for macro or long distance work.

You will be spending alot of time outdoors and probably quite a lot of time low down, you should think about buying items like a roll mat, foldable chair, or some waterproof fabric you can place on the ground before you spend time with your knees in the grass, have little comforts too; wear comfortable clothing and footwear, carry some hot water with you for a cuppa,it warms you up from the inside and can lift your spirits if its really cold, and wear a hat if it is sunny and hot, keep warm if it is the winter the more comfortable you are, the longer you will be able to stay out and take more photographs,and the more photographs you take, the more chance there is that you will have a great shot and you will be getting better.Patience and luck is the key!  I hope these few tips have helped you in some way and please feel free to contact me should you have any other queries.

 


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Changing Seasons

Filed in Advice On Wildlife on Oct.30, 2009

With the on set of winter around the corner and the days getting shorter and colder spare a thought for the animals and birds this time of year as their food become’s less available and some mammals shock up before they go into hibernation.If you have a garden place some bird feeders out,fat balls,peanuts etc  and clean drinking water in a shallow bowl, very important in hard weather when other water sources may be frozen.Ensure you are not marking it easier for predators to catch the birds, place them away from fences and dark corners ideal places for ‘next doors’ cat to be lurking and waiting for an easy meal.

Robin

 

Make your garden a paradise for birds/wildlife and you will reap the rewards by being able to watch them all year,plant berry-producing bushes and trees,also  plants that enhance insects as they are key foods iteams for tits and sparrows in the spring.Use old fruit from local markets and shops to feed thrushes through the winter,spread the fruit out onto your garden in different sizes to give all the birds the chance before the thrushes monopolise it.

A key thing with feeders is to make sure you clean them out regularly as good hygiene is imperative as Salmonella is widespread in wild birds,and wooden bird tables are difficult to clean and best avoided, also don’t put to much seed/food in them as it can go mouldy increasing the risk of disease,so aim to top up your feeds regularly when they have almost become empty . The RSPB do some brillant feeders with 100% of the profits going to helping birds and wildlife.

 

Great Tit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding the birds and animals in your garden can be so rewarding and offer you a chance to see these beautiful creatures up close and give you a vision into their world while in the comfort of your own home. So its an important thing to remember that feeding birds/animals in your garden is part of the overall management of your garden and planting trees,plants to provide natural sources of food to sustain the wildlife in your garden all year round is the key, but at this time of year you need to supplement this with more artificial sources ‘Fat Balls,Peanuts,Food Waste,Sunflower Seeds,etc,never put out desiccated coconut as it swells inside the birds.

The birds will get use to you feeding them so please try not to break the circle of feeding  as it will be a place wildlife will see as somewhere they can rely on in harsh times. Hopefully you and your family will get some much enjoyment out of watching these birds/animals feeding, seeing the characters of each different bird played out in front of you.

Great-Spotted Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good luck and if you need any further help and advice on how to feed and what to do please click here ‘RSPB’ and this will help you.Thank you and good luck


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