Entries in the ‘Animal Behaviour’

Capturing An Animals Spirit

Filed in Animal Behaviour, Wildlife, Workshops on Nov.30, 2011

Over the last week I have revisited my Red Squirrel site in the North west coastal region of the UK. I managed to capture these most adorable mammals in better light, having got use to their behaviour a little which in turn makes for a better image. This whole area is managed by the wildlife trust who keep an eye on the population of Red Squirrels that were almost wiped out 3 years ago. Numbers are slowly increasing with the hard work and dedication of the local trust and volunteers. Every living animal for me has their own spirit, their own character and I really try to capture that within my work. Unplanned, unscripted in its truest form, watching wildlife and capturing those briefest of moments when you witness their unique behaviour.  This is priceless.

The story with these guys is that they are really shy here among this pine forest habitat and not as bold as their grey counterparts, this though is the red’s undoing as the introduced greys are a more formidable forager of food and adapt to their environment far easier than the indigenous reds. Also the pox virus brought to these shores by the greys is wiping these little cute fellows out and experts warn that in as little as 20 years Red Squirrels could become extinct which would be a very sad day indeed.

A little supplementary food is put out by the trust but mostly these red’s forage for food on the forest floors, your first indication they are around is the sudden claw sounds as they chase each other around the tree trunks. Once on the ground though they are quick, real quick, darting all over the place and  you have to follow and focus almost at the same time which was a little challenging to say the least as you just don’t know where they will turn up.

I love to just watch wildlife, build a picture of what’s happening as all living animals have routines and patterns they stick to, creatures of habit, the way they move, walk or feed and congregate with others etc. So by watching these squirrels’ patterns when ascending from the trees to the forest floor to feed I learned a great deal from them. I’d focus in one given area keeping down on my own movements and noise that may just spook these fellows enough for them to disappear which is never my intention when working in the field with any living creature.

Once I’d heard the rustle of leaves that littered the ground I stayed still and lay flat on the ground to get that important and intermit view point with them.  No rain had fallen so they were dry and light which worked well for my hearing as you’d hear them coming, but bad for the squirrels as each movement from them was an open invitation to view them straight away as the rustle give their position away instantly.  I became aware the squirrels knew this and after a few paces they seemed to momentarily pause, dead still, then move again.

At first I tried to follow them through my viewfinder but found that they were just too quick and expert at giving me the brush off. Then I changed tact, focused in on an area I kept seeing them come to, it seemed a cross way veering off to many different paths they had to various areas where they stashed their bounty for another day. I also saw them rubbing their bodies along the fallen log in this area which the trust had left to rot and give back its riches to the soil.

The problem was if I moved my lens or camera as they approached they’d go before I could say hello, so I listened, looked left and right once the first rustle was picked up by myself. A light and not as heavy noise meant they were some distance away, louder and firmly noises meant they were close as my eye was pinned to my view finder with no time to swing a long lens around. I put all my eggs in one basket as they say and I had several wonderful close experiences with these beautiful mammals that crossed over an area to my front where they were picking and feeding on fungi and other food bits in and around this old fallen tree that was slowly being claimed back by nature.

I pre focused in this area and when he came close, I slowly used the large manual focus ring on my lens, which gave away no noise, shooting in quiet mode in camera, this reduces the noise as much as possible each time the shutter is pressed. Slowly I began, 1 shot, 2 shot, pause, as I watched for an indication he’s disturbed by me, if so I stop, if he wasn’t disturbed I continue with the same slow pace.  This approach works for me always remembering that these are wild animals with a healthy dislike for man. You have to work with them and in their environment and as a wildlife photographer I have a duty of care to the subject not to scare him into next week just for an image.

He routed around and fed on whatever he could find then went as quick as he’d come, it was wonderful to see these adorable animals so close and trusting towards me,  where he let me into his life briefly and where I was able to capture his spirit and sole as a living creature with these images. I mention this such alot on my blog but at a time when wildlife is really under pressure you have to put the welfare of the subject first before any photograph is taken.

Due care and thought for the animals well being should be one of if not the most important consideration before you head out anywhere to photograph whichever subject you are taking. With camera equipment and the need to capture images of wildlife there comes a great responsibility with it, so please be mindful of this when trying to get an image of a wild animal and watch for signs of stress and disturbance.  All wild animals have an inherent fear of man, place yourself in their circle of fear and you will be adding to that animals stress.

In this month’s Birdwatching magazine one of my wader images can been seen in their December edition. The image shows thousands of waders taking off while others waiting on the ground before joining them taken on a Spring tide in Norfolk. A bigger version can be seen on the 500px site by clicking on this link. It’s a wonderful place to display your images and somewhere I’d recommend having just joined.

The Spring tides for this year have now finished after this weekends brilliant showing, the next ones I have free are from February 2012 onwards so if you wish to know more information about these Spring tide days I run or to book one then just send me an email here The image above was taken on one of the last few Spring tides this weekend with clients, showing a Sanderling feeding with the tide coming in, replenishing the beach he was feeding on. Thank you to all those who have booked onto my Spring tide days and I look forward to the next ones in 2012.

And just a quick reminder Practical Photography magazine will be displaying a portfolio of my Spring tide images in their issue out on the 29th December 2011 so look out for that, many thanks.


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Amazing Watervole

Filed in Animal Behaviour, Wildlife on Sep.06, 2011

I have often said on previous blog pages covering many different subjects and places, you just never know what you’ll see when working with wildlife. And this one sentence couldn’t be further from the truth on a recent outing photographing Watervoles at a site within the beautiful Peak District, Derbyshire. This little creature lives a peaceful life on our riverbanks up and down the UK, often going unnoticed by passersby, but should you go to close or spook this animal you’ll be greeted in most parts by a loud “PLOP” as the vole makes a quick dash for safety by diving straight into the water and away to safety.

I am very fortunate to have found over the years several good sites in which these animals live and breed in. Watervoles are one of my favourite mammals, with their enduring character and cuteness, making them a lovely subject to watch and also photograph. They are legally protected in Britain and sadly their numbers continue to plummet. Due to its small size and the fact that it lives both on land and in the water, Watervoles are prey to numerous predators wherever they appear to live.

Mink, Weasels, Foxes along with Adders are the most common predators on dry land, with Owls and other birds Of prey hunting them from the air. Large fish such as Pike are known to hunt these mammals also. Their vast reduction in numbers in recent years however is not just caused by this high level of predation, the loss of much of their natural habitats has had a much more drastic effect along with the destruction of bank side vegetation, and pollution playing a vital part of their declining number on our shores.

I have been very lucky over the years in finding sites when I’m out and about, often there looking for another subject, when suddenly I’ll see gnawed nuts, shredded bark and cut grass leaves, all clear indicators of their presence around me at these new sites. One such site I have been watching for some time now, in-between my one to ones/workshops and other projects, I have captured them going about their lives along this very healthy river system in a beautiful and secluded part of the UK.

They share this space with a family of Little Grebes and I managed to captured the fully grown fledgling floating effortless on the dead calm water here, learning the skills his parents had taught him over the last several weeks.

On this day in question I got into place at dawn, settling into place, there was little wind, as Watervoles have an incredible sense of smell. I stay as low as is possible and become part of the riverbank, hiding away using the natural cover afforded to me from the reeds and bank side vegetation always mindful not to disturb these animals with my presence. I never enter the water around where they live or breed as I personally feel that this is a step to close, the welfare of any animal comes before any photograph, something you must be aware of with every living animal you photograph.

Much of the time when you are waiting for a wild animal to turn up you never know where, how or if your chosen subject will turn up so during this period I always become tuned into my environment, listening and watching for anything that indicates life, movement and the possibility of a different image or a new site or subject appearing. This approach is time consuming but greatly rewarding when you witness or see something for the first time, or even learn a bit more about your subject or that of any other living creature that may show up during your time at a certain place.

Without warning though I heard a slight rushling noise coming from deep inside the reeds as I witnessed the tops of the broad reeds moving, like someone was passing through underneath them if that makes sense. The next thing I saw was a Watervole climbing out on a very narrow branch and trying to reach some leaves at the end.  I just could’nt believe what I was seeing here.

Using his tail and hand as he balanced himself at the same time slowly and carefully moving along the branch, a few times pausing in an act to just steady himself. I didn’t know what to do first, laugh or stop and ask myself was I really seeing this, a wild animal doing a behaviour I’d never seen or even heard of before.

As the Watervole neared the leaves he would gather one and just casually sit there, suspended above the water beneath him and eat a few more before climbing back down to firm ground and a place you are normally accustom to seeing Watervoles live and feed in and around.

I feel privileged to have seen this behaviour on this day, really underlining you just never know what will happen as you watch wildlife and by being ready with your camera, constantly watching your subject you will, with luck be able to capture such events that would be hard to explain outside of a set-up image.  Not long after this he carried on feeding on the ground, a little out of shot, then disappearing into the dense undergrowth, where I didn’t see him again that day.

I’ll be going back soon hoping to see this pair and over the summer months my Watervole workshops have helped many of my clients not only to see this wonderful mammal in the wild but they have been able to take some wonderful images also. If you would like more information on these days then please click here and scroll down to the bottom of my workshops/photo tours page.

I had a lovely surprise over the weekend with one of my favourite Spring Tides at Norfolk images published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, the image can be seen above and the link here. It was taken on one of the Spring Tides that really start in earnest on the lead up to Christmas now. I focused inside the flock as half of the birds, which are called Knot, started to take off, leaving a queuing system on the ground as the other Knots waited to join them by taking off and returning to the mudflats of the wash in Norfolk.

If you would like to witness this amazing event, I run one to ones/workshops there concentrating on these spectacular days in the morning, then throughout the rest of the day we visit many other amazing sites around the North Norfolk coastline, finishing at one of my Barn Owl site there capping off a wonderful day of wildlife photography, for more details please see my link here many thanks.


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Precarious Start In Life

Filed in Animal Behaviour, Wildlife, Workshops on Jul.08, 2011

Fraught with danger, and extremely hazardous, it is the precarious life of many young animals as they now turn from a dependent youngster to an adult during this time of the year.  The countryside is awash with animals, fresh from the protection of the homes built by experienced parents several months earlier. High pitched calls litter the river banks and woodlands, as birds, and mammals beg for food from their hard pressed parents who spend all of their time being attentive to their off spring.

Witnessing these special moments can be some of the most enduring moments within mother nature, as we watch the high level of dependence unfold before our very eyes, youngsters mimicking their parents, learning the key skills that will hopefully keep them alive in the cruel and often unforgiving world they are about to enter.

Over the last couple of months when time has allowed I have been watching a few of my favourite species, one being the Dipper and the other the Puffin. At the several different sites I’ve been visiting this year, some Dippers have nested early, others quite late and most have been doing really well. During the many trips to these sites either alone or with clients on my ever popular Dippers of the Dales workshop and one to one’s, they’ve been very active.

In most cases the Dipper nests really early in the year around mid to late March/April time. If the first brood is successful the same birds try for a second brood later on, one of the major problems then though is the water height of the river. If it drops the Dippers are forced to abandon the second nest as they follow the river downstream. This has happened this year with one pair of Dippers, where the river has dried up, leaving small pockets of water in which to feed in.

Over the last several weeks we’ve had a good amount of rain and at other sites where the Dippers have nested and were on their second brood several chicks have died due to rising water levels.  The nests where sighted just under waterfalls and as the level of water rose, the power of the waterfalls have sweeped a large part of the nests away leaving 2 chicks where there had been 4 youngsters to each set of parents.

This left these small, vulnerable birds homeless and alone on the river bank as the parent birds struggled to find and feed them.  The life of a Dipper chick is a dangerous one, as the power of the water calms many of them, then there are the many predators also.  With a high mortality rate among their number nature has evolved these birds to have large broods and sometimes two throughout the breeding season but still only a few survive the dangerously insecure and perilous journey they take to become adults.

The young don’t have the trademark white bib yet, instead their plumage blends into their habitat amazing making these birds really hard to spot among the riverbank vegetation.  The young I have watched that have lost their home have been well looked after, where the parent birds have hidden the youngsters the best they can in darkened areas of the riverbank, so fingers crossed these last few survive.

I have made a short film just to illustrate just how small and vulnerable this Dipper was, turfed from his nest a little too early due to the nest being damaged through rising water levels. Even this young their “Dipping” behaviour can be seen which was so wonderful to witness.  The last remaining Dipper chicks on my last visit had moved further down river, following the flow of water and witnessing how attentive their parents were, so it all looks good for their survival fingers crossed, its one of the most precarious starts though within the natural world with a very high mortality rate.

My other firm favourite also shares that most precarious of beginnings into the natural world and that is the clown of the sea; the Puffin.

I have visited the island of Skomer many times this year and never tire of seeing these beautiful, comical and funny seabirds that come to this little island, off the coast of Wales to breed and rise their young for a short time each year, before returning back to the perilous stormy seas of the Atlantic. They come ashore early to late March and reaffirm their bonds after meeting their partners.  Those that have lost or don’t have a partner then set out on the journey to find one as thousands of these birds come ashore during this time.  Its a frantic time, lots and lots of action, but everything settles down and then they start raising their young in the underground burrows on the island.

My last visit there was this week on a one to one, after a bright start the heavens opened and we both got really soaked as Skomer can be an unforgiving place when the weather changes. I wanted to try and convey the changing weather conditions that were approaching the island with this image below. It shows the incoming storm and a pair of Puffins displaying a resolve to sit the storm out by staying put as the Puffin here in the foreground clearly demonstrated to us.

If you were a script writer that specialized in comedy you’d find it hard to write the script for these birds as they are just so funny to watch, and I am convinced they love non-threatening human company, once you win their trust and keep that distance, you can enjoy unrivaled humour where I’m often seen laughing as I take photos of these birds. Then occasionally they let out a long moan like call, which is their own way of communicating with each other, again it’ll have you in stitches as its unplanned and often unannounced when it happens.

As it rained we scrambled to cover our cameras and were treated to a few and brief sightings of Pufflings, the name given to baby Puffins.  Almost Jackdaw like in appearance with no colour to them.  These birds slowly made their way to the edge of the burrows in which they had just spent the previous several weeks living in underground.  Really nervous at first, with an adult bird there with them, as a show of support for the appearance.

I could see as I watched they were nervous of which they had good reason as large Gulls always patrol the skies over where these birds breed.  Alot of the time the Puffins get robbed of their catch, or even worse the Gulls take their chicks ,so extreme caution is always best. When this chick came out above, the adult bird seemed to be fussing over him, being really attentive towards the young Puffling, eventually he settled down and did a few wing exercises then went back underground. Lovely to see the interaction between the parent and youngsters, very enduring to see and watch.

At another entrance to a burrow a Puffin was cleaning as the rain came down and suddenly the young Puffin appeared, standing a little further out from the burrow, watching his parent clean.  Their beaks will grow over time and their colourless appearance is in stark contrast to that of the adult birds.  In a few weeks all the Puffins along with their young will leave for sea and not return to land for the next 8 months.

The precarious life of an young Puffin is beset with difficulties, fraught with danger in the waters of the Atlantic where they’ll spend most of that time, eating, sleeping out a sea.  It has to be one of the toughest existence’s within the natural world I can think of, where only the strongest will survive and return to land after that period at sea.

Fingers crossed these two make it, many thanks to all my clients who have seen these amazing birds with me over the last several weeks, I know many have learned alot more not only about wildlife photography but also the behaviours of these two charismatic birds, many thanks.

 

 

 


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Animal Behaviour

Filed in Animal Behaviour, Wildlife on Mar.20, 2010

From the beginning,before the first glimmerings of civilization man has studied animal behaviour.It has been an essential part of the struggle for survival,with our remote ancestors relying on hunting and gathering:hunting large animals and gathering insects and shellfish as well as berries,nuts and roots.The success of this way of life must have lain in acquiring a knowledge,often intimate,of the habits and behaviour’s of many animals.Primitive man had to know where he was most likely to find particular animals,and in what seasons.Watching and learning the more intimate and private lives of their prey to gain a better knowledge,their spears and arrows only effective over a range of about twenty meters so they had to get close to their prey that was aware that man was a predator.

To achieve this,the hunters had to make themselves familiar with the habits of their quarry,its tracks,its waterholes,its favourite foods and whether it would stand its ground to defend its young all key behaviours and where mans interest of animal behaviour began.I have always been fascinated in animal behaviour,getting close and just watching the different behaviour,and getting as close to the subject as I could,with fluid movement almost like a cat stalking a bird.as the eye is very good at detecting movement,with the slower you are the less the subject will see you.Capturing some interest through behaviour can transform an image in my eyes,giving the person an insight into the subjects private world

Last Light

Artic tern

The are so many forms of animal behaviours from eating and drinking,hunting,territorial to hierarchical among their societies,courtship,and displays.I plan over time to go through the various main behaviours in wildlife,where I will illustrate and explain the specific behaviour the subject goes through alongside the time of year when a lot of the animal world behaves differently dependant on what season we are in.

As Spring is upon us now the main animal behaviour you will witness at this time of the year all revolves around courtship;territory,mating etc,where nearly all animals have a place to live,a home,if you like.They do not wander at will and the expression ‘as free as a bird’ is misleading,each animal normally spends its life in a certain area where it feeds,sleeps and rears its young.The form of living space varies throughout the animal kingdom and,for each species is intimately related to its way of life.At this time of year where a good territory can be the successful key in attracting a mate,where the male can advertise to the world his willingness to mate with displays and song from the security of his territory,occasionally having to fight off other males in pursuit of keeping what he has.

Displaying Dipper

Fighting Puffins

The female makes a tour of the territory and accepts the advances of the male of her choice and the start of their courtship begins where the pair have formed a partnership,and go onto building a nest and rearing their young.The aim of every male animal is to find one or sometimes,several females with which to mate with.It can be said that the whole point in life,at least in biological terms,is to leave as many descendants as possible and,according to Darwin’s ‘Theory of Evolution’ by natural selection,the best and most vigorous animals beget the most offspring.In other words, the survival of the fittest individuals must breed well and pass on the characteristics that made them so fit to the next generation.

The methods employed by a species to ensure this happening are called the ‘Reprodctive Strategy’ As far as the females are concerned,this means laying as many eggs or bearing as many young as possible,and for the male it means ensuring that he fathers the maximum progeny.The result of an act of mating is a fertilized egg,this not only contains the germ of a new individual,but is furnished with a food store that supplies energy for development and eventually a young animal emerges.

Moorhen Chick

Parental care then takes over where the young are fed,protected,kept clean and warm,even helped to learn to fend for themselves.While mammals have evolved live birth and the feeding of the young with milk produced in the mothers body,birds have retained the egg-laying habit of their reptilian ancestors.In my next chapter on ‘Animal Behaviour’ I will go through ‘Raising The Family’-parental care,teaching young etc hopefully helping you to understand animal behaviour better.

Shag Portrait

CJWP


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