Entries in the ‘Projects’

Bright Eyes

Filed in Projects, Wildlife on Dec.11, 2011

Winter announced its arrival recently bringing to an end one of the warmest autumns since records began with gales, icy winds and snow in parts of the UK. While the seasons change from autumn into winter there seems to have been an invasion of Short-eared Owls to various areas around the UK. These birds come down from the moorland and higher ground during our winter months to spend their time at sea level before departing back to the higher breeding grounds come February and March. The numbers of this most striking of owls has been up on last years and at this rate looks set to match the brilliant numbers of 2009.

Many of these birds are being seen across the whole country at present indicating a fantastic year for their main food source of voles and small rodents. One of the many things that is good about these beautiful birds is that they hunt in mainly daylight, particularly from mid-afternoon onwards and they can stay in an area through the winter months providing the voles and other small rodents in which they feed mainly on remain at a good level.

This year has been a bumper year for voles with the warming temperatures making it ideal conditions for these small mammals to breed. Birds are coming from the continent also to take advantage of the plentiful food source experts have recorded. Over the last couple of weeks I have visited several places of which I have photographed these owls in the past and as mentioned 2009 for me was one of the best years, but this year may just beat that as numbers and sightings continue to rise each week.

Bright yellow eyes that look at first glance as though they are frowning if they look at your directly.  With their pale faces acting to enhance their most striking of features, those bright eyes. Hidden away I watch and scan the marshland and rough grazing grounds that these owls love to feed and live on and being a ground dwelling bird they blend in so well with their plumage colours.

Their feathers a mixture of bold bands and rings forming a wonderful pattern that renders them invisible once they are on the ground. Sometimes you hear them before you see them, a loud short “bark” like call echoes across the area. They are normally late risers, starting to hunt from lunchtime onwards but I have noticed after a period of wet weather they can come out from first light, as they need to feed and recover lost time and build up those supplies of food that will see them through the cold weather.

Once in the air you witness their broad, stiff wings flap with great purpose almost in a slow motion fashion, covering the ground well with each rise and fall of their wing beats. Once they leave the sky and come down low you almost lose them among the vegetation colours, until you see their white under wings as they pass by. The distinctive black bands and bold barred tail standing proudly as they glide in between their wing beats.

I have had mixed fortune with the weather so far, after one of the mildest autumns since records begin the weather has changed getting colder with windy and wet weather a lot of time, with the odd break in the cloud sometimes, warming the areas in which these owls are at present. In weather that all owls dislike and choose not to hunt in, survival is by feeding on their larder of food which they stock pile when the goings good and keeps they going until hopefully the weather breaks. If the weather doesn’t change I have known Short-eared Owls to leave an area, vanish to warmer climets way before the late February get away, back to their breeding grounds.

Their bright yellow eyes are surrounded by smudged black makeup, set in a large round, disc like shaped face which is stunning to the eye as they glare at you before flying past. They always seem so startled by the world around them as I watch them hunt or perhaps that’s defiance, but they are full of character and self belief and watching them hunting and comb an area for prey is a magical experience to witness.

They fly warily around each other, closing and drifting apart, rising and falling, slowly spiraling in wide circles, as they drift across the marshland. Notoriously during the breeding seasons they are very territorial and fiercely defensive of their area. But during the winter months as they glide around our countryside almost in a nomadic manner are very tolerant of each other.

I am hoping the cold weather of the last two winters doesn’t happen this year as along with the Barn Owl many Short eared Owls died due to being unable to feed and break through the frozen ground that at times was covered in snow for days even weeks at a time making the whole process of finding food a real contest of pure survival.

I will be concentrating my efforts in the sites I have known for many years over the next several months and I hope to capture a few more images and spend some time filming and watching these beautiful owls. I will update my blog on how I get on during that time and fingers crossed the weather doesn’t betray them, forcing them to move on to other areas.

WWT Photography Competition 2011-2012

I am delighted to have been asked for a second year to become one of the regional judges in this brilliant photography competition. Over the last week I have judged two categories which I was assigned from the Martin Mere wetland centre. Choosing my selection from the autumn heat which then goes onto the final. When the competition closes on 31 August 2012 all regional heat winners will go through to the grand national final to be held in autumn 2012. Then the Portfolio Photographer will be chosen and awarded the grand prize of a trip to Antarctica.

The winter heat is now open until the 29th February 2012 so click on the following link for more information and details of how to enter this brilliant competition. I visit Martin Mere quite a lot, and during the winter months they have the beautiful Whooper and Bewick Swans as visitors, as they spend their winter months with us before heading back north to their summer breeding grounds. The image above was taken at Martin Mere showing three Whooper Swans flying in against the cold winter sky on a frosty day.The very best of  luck to everyone that enters.


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The Kingfisher and The Mink

Filed in Projects on Dec.11, 2010

I have really missed going down to the river of late where I have been watching and documenting the trails and tribulations of the Kingfishers that live in this private and untouched area.  This has been as a result of workshops and one to ones and other projects I am currently working on.  Over the last week or so along with the freezing cold days, I have made the dawn starts to go and see the Kingfishers on a stretch of the River Trent not to far from my Staffordshire home, wondering if they have left for the coast to feed, as this is a behaviour in Kingfishers when their food supply drys up or the rivers and inland streams that they live on freeze up.

When I get to the river in the darkness I set up my hide on the frozen ground, having to wade through a small piece of the river to reach where I place my hide.  On some days access isn’t possible due to the rising waterline and in the past the river has risen, only for me to arrive and my hide has been taken by the currents. This makes the whole project which I started some time ago now even more special and untouched.  If you respect a place it may give up its secrets to you.  I totally immerse myself in this little wilderness rarely visited by the outside world due to its private nature, almost like the wildlife it supports. 

I have dedicated as much of my time as possible to these Kingfishers, more so the young gorgeous female I have watched grow over the last several months, fighting back with her parents refusing to be pushed out by those who once loved and protected her, claiming a piece of this rich and diverse wilderness for herself.  I get over joyed when I first see her, chuffed shes making her mark, a broad smile lights up my face as deep down I am routing for her to succeed and have a family, continuing the ‘magic’ blue flashes you see when they fly low to the water.

In my experience working with these Kingfishers, you can wait almost all day for one passing glimpse as they fly up and down the river, you only real indication they are around sometimes is their piercing loud call which breaks through the ever present sound of the moving water. Briefly landing on the perches then vanish, on my last visit there I did briefly see a Mink and saw a few footprints around. The Mink is a medium-sized member of the weasel family, the first American Mink were brought to British fur farms in 1929 and all wild Mink in Britain today are descendants of escapees. Their natural wild colouring is a glossy dark brown, appearing almost black in some light.

My own sightings over the last few days have been amazing , where I have witnessed them feeding, swimming and actively seeking out prey, which is bad for the wildlife in and around rivers and this one in particular due to the Kingfishers. I have not seen any Watervoles, their prints or droppings, their declining numbers put down to this introduced species which is in a no win situation, a proven killer that can swim, climb and tackle prey much bigger than themselves just going about its business.  I have never been so close to these animals, and having rarely seen one before, I was lost for words, as this one fished and went about its life feet away from me allowing me a view into his very private life.

I watched in total amazement as this Mink heard something then carried on, at one point stalking a Moorhen he’d seen.  As you can see from one of the photographs where I have captured him with a front paw raised, a beautiful looking animal whose coat was in stunning condition.  I have the extreme weather conditions to thank and lady luck twinned with my own fieldcraft, at one point I had left my hide and stalked him through the icy cold water, kneeing in the swallow bit of the river, lowering my tripod legs very,very slowly as not to spook him.

He was only feet away from me, the wind blowing my scent away, all parts of my body were covered as light is reflected from skin and I stayed as low as possible for this incredible encounter that I chose to film, he was in a shaded area so it appears to be dark but I truly had no time to make the adjustments in camera as I filmed this incredible moment.

One of those truly beautiful moments where I was allowed to watch this shy and elusive creature for a few minutes.  I didn’t see him again that day but they are fairly active in this area as on previous visits I have seen track marks and kill sites, so I am hoping maybe to have these kind of sightings once more in the future.

As the minutes turned into hours and the shorter days resulted in less light I hadn’t seen the Kingfisher and I was thinking two things, firstly that they had left for the coast to find food, but the river wasn’t frozen, or secondly, something had happened to them and then my thoughts turned to the Mink.  Then in the distance I could just make her out, great; shes alive I said, she seemed to be fishing from the higher branches of the various different trees that litter the riverbank, from old to new trees, covering the banks with a natural fence line. 

I have captured a few images I love, backlit with slight contrasty light, but I loved the effect with the hue of the frosty blue forming a slight colour to these images, with the snow in parts adding a real atmosphere to the photographs.

I had waited hours before she briefly appeared in front of my hide, checking it out and watching me as she heard the shutter noise, the water was so cold the blueish colour can be seen behind the Kingfisher as she had a look below her before flying off.

A really beautiful looking bird who has grown up and seems really settled now on this stretch of the river.  I am going to try and capture her over the coming year , fingers crossed I hope, as I really love my time down by the river, watching, waiting for that moment of magic when she appears from nowhere, stays, looks around and goes as quick as she arrived alongside the other wonderful wildlife I have witnessed there too.


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Dippers Of The Dale-Update

Filed in Articles, Projects on Feb.24, 2010

On a windswept, freezing day yesterday I visited a snow-covered Lathkill Dale Nature Reserve,Derbyshire,with temperature’s below zero,there was little activity in any shape or form from the abundant wildlife they live in this breathtakingly beautiful part of the Peak District.My aim is to capture 12 months in the ‘life of the Dipper’ through the medium of photography,so we get a better understanding of this amazing bird,the way it lives and how this beautiful bird and other wildlife in this precious habitat is been affected by human disturbance,with numbers down last year to an all time low it prompted me to write an article ‘Dippers Of the Dale’ which was published in the October issue of Birdwatching Magazine and can be seen by clicking here

Dipper

 

 I did catch sight of this lone male,preening,making final adjustments to his stunning condition in order to attach a female with the onset of the breeding season around the corner,and with the warming temperature’s last week,this week must have come as a real shock to the Dippers with a deluge of heavy snow confusing their body clocks.

Over the last few months since my article in October, the signs have been replaced with new ones,where the wording has changed being more precise and specific with the welfare of the wildlife at the core,educating others to the issues/problems faced by the species of wildlife here,more so the Dippers,Watervoles.

New Sign

 

Natural England who run and manage the site are doing a brillant job at Lathkill Dale,with new indicatives to help the Dipper and its survival here.I spoke recently to its head warden;Phil Bowler who had seen my article and liked how it highlighted the problem,he has many plans under way for the successful survival of this bird,and I’m pleased to say I will be helping out when I can,offering my services to Phil/Natural England in an attempt to help,educate people into enjoying the breathtaking beauty,but at the same time respecting the wildlife that chose to livehere.The signs are a clear and positive, physical reminder to people/children in how to behave which is a great start.The number of these signs has also increased along the river,with key sites having a sign strategical placed so know one can miss them, an example is seen below,with the river in the background.

 

The four coming breeding season will be the real test,but small steps lead to bigger ones,as all help is good help in my eyes.The response I got from my article was very pleasing with people been highlighted to the issues there,and the people I have taken on my workshops called ‘Dippers Of the Dale’ has been great too,where they have enjoying seeing this bird,learning about its skills and behaviour’s, at the same time respecting its welfare and habitat.So for me its a great start as I feel the Dipper’s plight is more protected now then last year,and maybe the result will be the peace and solitude it so rightly deserves at the same time people enjoying this beautiful part of the country,its just the beginning,but a very good,positive one for the ‘Master of the River’ as I call them.

 

An image capturing one of the many waterfalls that frequent the river Lathkill above,adding great impact and atmosphere to this stunning landcape where the Dipper lives,and where my love of the Dipper started as a small boy and over the years the Dipper has always brought a smile to my face with its charismatic nature , and bobbing or dipping movements which I’ve always viewed as the bird ‘Curtseying’ for you.I hope to carry on helping/educating others so future generations can enjoy this charismatic bird like I have done from childhood.Thank you to everyone who has emailed me over time and highlighted this issue,where we can all do our bit in helping.I will continue to update my blog with regard to the Dippers at Lathkill keeping you informed as to the welfare and hopefully successful breeding season that’s approaching and my workshops dates for the year can been seen by clicking here.Any further help or advice then please feel free to contact me by clicking on my contact page,alternatively here.


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Short-eared Owls

Filed in Projects on Dec.05, 2009

I have been photographing Short-eared Owls over the last couple of weeks at one of my sites on the North-West Coast of the UK where they migrant to in the winter months, it’s pre-dominantly a stronghold for Short-eared Owls during the non-breeding season and this time of year.Most Short-eared Owls are upland,pasture and moorland hunters,but during the colder months in these areas their prey becomes scarce so the birds move to areas where their food of voles,rodents and other small mammals is more abundant, hence why they are said to migrate during this period when really its just about surviving the colder months.

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They favour coastal,marshland,reedbeds and rough grazing habitat during the winter months,often coming down to lower altitudes from their upland/moorland summer habitats. With the weather being so wet over the last few weeks the opportunities to see them, let alone photograph these most beautiful of the owl family have been very slim on the ground but I managed to capture some images.But over the next 2 months I hope to get some beautiful shots of these owls hunting like I did last year with the image below.

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I love their faces with their ‘Disc-Like’ shape to it and those ‘Fierce’ looking eyes that for me make these a beautiful looking bird.They are one of the few owls that regularly hunt and appear in broad daylight,often visible at long range,listen out for the males call, a deep, booming sound – ‘boo-boo-boo-boo’  when you are looking for them.During this time of year they are very tollerate of other birds/owls and most of the time can be seen hunting together over the marshland here where numbers of 15,20+ have been counted in the past in this area alone,with one communal roost with a maximum of 28 owls in it.

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I will keep my blog updated on my progress in capturing these birds ,weather permitting,but in the meantime when you go and visit marshland,coastal reedbeds etc just look out for these birds especially at this time of year and listen out for their calls and remember their eye sight is amazing so wear muted,camoflaged clothing to ensure you give yourself the best chance of seeing these beautiful birds and try to stay as still as possible.Good luck and if you would like any futher help and advice on these birds please contact me and I’ll do my best.

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Whooper Swan Project

Filed in Projects on Oct.28, 2009

I have been working on a project for a few weeks now where I have been trying to capture one of my favorite birds,the beautiful ‘Whooper Swan’. This shy bird is the biggest of our swans and on the north-west coast there is in places a high population of these birds.with its long,flat forehead and yellow bill its a beautiful bird. I have been spending as much time as possible watching these birds,where they go,where they fly to and feed,the way the sun sets hoping to capture them in an almost ‘Watercolour’ painting effect inspired by my friend and wildlife artist Ian Griffiths (Griff) who paints wildlife for a living and has some amazing work,click his name and see his beautiful work

Whooper Swan

 

whooper swans

 

I watched for some time how they made their approach into their roost and tried where possible to get level with them so I could give the impression I was level and flying alongside them.One of the key things I tell people is the need to get to know your subject and how they move, how/where they live, all key factors to getting that all important photograph.Mother Nature gives clues to us and I show people how to read these and get close without impacting on their lives and in turn making for better ‘Wildlife Photography’

 Red Deer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They where so beautiful to watch and for such a large bird where very graceful when flying and landing.I also heard their loud trumpeting call  ‘Whoop-Whoop-Whoop’ hence there name ‘Whooper Swan’ I hope you enjoy some of the images I took and this time of year they live on large lakes,marshes,rivers,estuaries and fields so look out for these beautiful Swans when out out and about

WHOOPER SWAN


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