Entries in the ‘Wildlife’

Nest Building -Dipper

Filed in Wildlife, Workshops on Apr.11, 2010

After a brilliant week camping in the Welsh countryside it was straight back home and out today on one of my Dippers Of The Dale workshops I had booked with a very nice man:Charlie Goddard from the North-East of the UK, Charlie had contacted me reference coming on one of my Dipper one day workshops as he’d never been able to get closer enough at his local site to photograph these Masters Of The River.These birds and the workshops are my favorite to do as I love to pass on my passion for these beautiful birds,telling the person(s) all about their behaviours etc as they are crafted from over 25 years of interest/experience of this bird dating back to when I was 10 years old,they have a personnel connection for me also.

Dipper

My aim on any trip I do is to get the very best images of the chosen subject the client has come to see and photograph,so it was fantastic that on Charlie’s chosen day the Dippers had started to build their nest,with the care and fieldcraft I teach in and around this bird on these workshops its possible to get some close up images without disturbing them,but it has been some time since I have been rewarded with such close up views as we’d had today,and I was over the moon for Charile.Because for me its the joy people get from what they see and photograph that makes me happy,by showing,teaching what I know and love.

Dipper In Habitat

 We saw three birds,one female and two males,with the numbers being really down on the previous years for this time of year.Natural England have ringed two of the birds from what I could see with the above bird not having any rings on yet.Phil Bowler,head warden for the area, had told me in an email of there attempt to provide nest boxes for the Dippers to nest in,far removed from the busy hotspot areas they have chosen before and deserted due to high levels of disturbance.So it was with great anxiety I witnessed these birds building a nest not so far away from one of these hotspots instead of the well hidden nest boxes.And as we sat and waited for the Dippers to reappear, two dogs where in the water and also two people decided to dip their feet in the water as the temperature was raising alongside my own.

This does prove that the Dipper,through memory will return to their place of birth alot of the time,with food source being the key,while some of the nest boxes provided by Natural England are placed/sited away from the fast-flowing water, I feel this is a key decision for the Dipper’s when it chooses a place in which to site its nest,close to or on top of a plentiful supply of food.As it stands I feel the disturbance will play a major role on this particularly site as was the case last year and I wish they’d have chosen a more secret location for their nest.

Grey wagtail

Not to far away from the Dippers nest their are a pair of Grey Wagtails that are building their nest too,so the area is a real hub of activity at present.Charlie got some brilliant close up images and he’s promised to send me one as he was using the 200-400 and with the Dippers collecting moss so close to us he was able to zoom out where I had ran out of focusing due to the Dipper being so close,amazing to watch though!.I am going back really soon to watch and monitor this pair and I hope and pray they have moved to a different site where their chances of raising a family will be greater,thus,increasing the population of Dippers on this stretch of river hopefully.

Dipper

A great day was had,with the customer’s wishes of seeing and photographing the Dipper coming true which is what its all about for me alongside me helping them to take better photos.I will update my blog on the situation at this spot but I say now that I am very nervous for this pair as they don’t seem to be using the nest boxes provided and if they carry on building where we both witnessed today then the future doesn’t look good.

With the new signs,ringing for information purposes and the introduction of nest boxes not stopping people/dogs entering the water who knows what the answer is apart from my solution,which was fencing off these sensitive areas I had mentioned in my previous article printed in the Birdwatching Magazine last October,which can be viewed here,fingers crossed though to a successful year as last year was the worst I can remember.with the Dippers really needing a break this year.

I have a really busy month ahead of me with my Norfolk workshop,then my trip to India to photograph the Tigers,then my trip with Jereon Stel to Texel,so really looking forward to all those trips,and thank you to all the people I’ve met for your support.

CJWP


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Wales

Filed in Articles, Places Of Interest, Wildlife on Apr.10, 2010

I have just spent the last 3-4 days in Mid-Wales photographing some of the beautiful wildlife this part of the UK has to offer.I was invited by my friend Ken along with a number of fellow wildlife photographers who have a annual week in this breathtakingly beautiful place.First on my wish list was a trip to Gigrin Farm to photograph the amazing population of Red Kites that live and feed here.

Red Kite

Red Kite

The Gigrin is a family run upland sheep farm of approximately 200 acres, owned and farmed by Chris Powell, and Mrs Lena Powell.The land is 700 feet rising to 1200 above sea level giving wonderful views of the Wye and Elan valleys in mid-Wales.Gigrin became the Official Red Kite Feeding Station in the winter 1992/93 following a request from the RSPB who had witnessed the late Mr Powell feeding the kites.Red kites being hungry when they awake, will hunt for food during the morning and early afternoon, so Gigrin is a top up or emergency ration for them and is not intended to replace their wild food source.

On the day we were there the weather was a mixture of  overcast and cloud with the odd ray of light piercing the cloud cover,this added a great atmosphere to the place and shows what ever the weather throws at you there will always be a photograph you can obtain from the day.Being my first visit there I wanted to try and capture a few different images from the normal portrait of this beautiful bird that at close quarters is massive.With the light and overcast conditions I was able to create some images from Gigrin that were a little different,encapsulating my trademark of strong composition,with the poor,overcast conditons turned around to help and aid my images.

Red Kite

Red Kites

While photographing the Red Kites this ‘Leucistic’ Kite turned up.It has started to visit the feeding station more and more after being born in 2003 and until recently had’nt been seen for some time I was told by the owners of Gigrin.Leucistic means that the colouration is mainly pure white and not the usual red or black of the normal kites and not to be confused with an ‘Albino’ as these lack colouring and have pink eyes unlike the yellow/blue eyes of this beautiful Leucistic Kite.

White Kite

'Leucistic' Kite

I also tryed out a few ‘Arty’ shots using a slow shutter speed which results in capturing the sense of movement within an image,giving the photo great impact like the two I have included below with the first one capturing the Red kites trademark of ‘Diving’ for the food which is placed out for them by Chris.There is also a small in the frame image I have converted over to ‘Black+White’ which has brought out the cloud patterns on the day.They have done a wonderful job at Gigrin over the years and its well worth visiting.

Diving Red Kite

Red Kite

B+W Red Kite

During my stay in Wales we all covered a vast distance,traveling to different location,from the Osprey Project at Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve,three miles south of Machynlleth.We were able to see the Osprey on the CCTV screen but a little to far for photography.We headed for the coast,where I photographed the returning Waders,I managed to capture this Oystercatcher feeding away,turning over Shell’s and breaking open mussels.

Oystercatcher

Wales really has so much to offer in the way of different habitats,and various wildlife,from coastal to reedbed/marshland we covered it all,with the weather being very kind,the odd night frost thrown in just for good measure as I was camping.I had brought the essentials through;Tea Bags,Bacon,Fresh Bread and HP sauce all so important when you are camping as a warm drink and food are the best tonic,in my case a bacon sandwich.

The trip was great and thanks to Ken for inviting me,thanks also Brian,Tom,Phil,and on the last day before my drive back home to Staffordshire I had my best shots of the stunning Willow Warbler within this habitat of ReedBeds,with the sun behind me setting it was a real treat to end a great trip.

Reed Warbler

CJWP


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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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Barn Owl -Update

Filed in Articles, Wildlife on Feb.09, 2010

Having returned to my Barn Owl site over the last few days, where I’d previously watched and photographed this beautiful male Barn Owl hunt for food during the country’s really cold weather last month,I was delighted to see the male hunting but at the same time quite bemused as it was raining,with the rain falling as sleet,a behaviour I’ve never seen before in Barn Owls due to it’s hazardous nature.The structure of an adult Barn Owl’s feathers make them perfectly adapted for silent flight,but this makes them prone to waterlogging so consequently they are not 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.

Barn Owl

Hunting is certainly more difficult in these testing conditions, as sound as well as sight are hindered in locating small mammals due to the rain.I watched him hunt for about two hours with little success,the wind buffeting him around like a kite ,expelling loads of energy in the process.There was no sign of the female so I presume he’s alone and may probably move on shortly.I really hope not as I have become quite fond of this very resilient Owl.I also have received a lot of ‘Fan’ emails asking if he survived the recent cold snap which I covered in my first ‘Barn Owl’ post,so thank you to those people and here is the proof that he’s alive and kicking and his plumage is in stunning conditon with the onset of the breeding season around the corner.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

And what seems to becoming customary now when I go out photographing of late is the ever presence of Stonechats,whether it be male or female they seem to always find me,and keep me company.The image below is of a female who was really intrigued by me,capturing the mood of the day with the inclusion of the weather conditions in the background.

Stonechat

 

The following is a list of useful Tips, which will help to increase your chances of successful Owl watching:

Wear dark, quiet clothes

Get to know the area during daylight, and establish the most suitable areas of habitat for the species that you are hoping to observe (i.e. where they are most likely to hunt)

If you suspect that an area is being used as a roost or nest site you must not disturb it, but watch from a safe distance

When watching a nocturnal species, arrive at your observation position before dusk – this will allow for your eyes to become gradually accustomed to the gathering darkness, and will ensure that you are ready and settled before the owls emerge

Do not disturb the birds in any way – remain hidden at all times

If you accidentally stray close to a nest, move quickly and quietly away as Barn Owls have Schedule 1 protection status

I have really enjoyed my close encounters with this tough,hardy male Barn Owl and if he remains in this area I will look forward to photographing him,even better if he attracts a mate and breeds I’ll have another long term project to concentrate on with the images being displayed on future blogs-fingers crossed.I hope you’ve enjoyed the trails,tribulations of this owl documented in my blogs as much as I have on the ground.


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Eye Contact

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.19, 2010

Revisited the Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl site yesterday,the first time since the snow had melted and what greeted me was more like the landscape of an estuary than the farmland and rough grazing habitat where these owl are spending the winter months.With the access water from the snow and the rain everywhere, the fields were saturated,with knowhere for this extra water to drain off too,the ground was just full of water.This left isolated pockets of ground scattered among the water with little chance of a meal for the owls among this sodden landscape.

SEO

This made it very difficult for the owls to hunt in,but I was really glad to see the male Barn Owl I had spent alot of time with a few weeks ago having survived the unprecedented cold spell of freezing weather we’d just endured.His two favorite stretches of land he prefers to hunt in were underwater so he was at a different spot,some distance away so I hope to catch up with him soon before both these species of owl leave and head to their summer breeding grounds around mid to late February.I was just about to pack up as an impending storm was gathering when a Short-eared Owl landed  to my right on the fence line.

SEO

He hadn’t seen me at first,so I waited for him to get relaxed as he was looking up,down and around at first,I then took a few images and proceeded forward at a snails pace,stopping as he looked my way,when he looked away or started to clean himself I carried on forward until I got about 20 foot away from him where he gave me this stare which you can see above,this was the cut off point for my advances as I read his behaviour as I entered past the ‘comfort’ zone all animals have.Not bad as I would have looked like a large bush coming towards him, he just didn’t no what I was as I moved very slowly, watching the ground where I put my lead foot down as not to tread on something that would give me away.

SEO

I have always found you must read the signs the subject will give you,interpret them quickly.eg are they going to move,or fly off,are they cleaning,feeding,resting,happy,troubled and so on, so you can get an understanding if they are agitated by you presence.This will give you valuable time to get the images you want,they may still fly off or move but its better to have done your approach this way because if things go your way you will be able to capture close up and interment moments and truly benefit from the close encounter with the subject you chose to find that day.

SEO

This Short-eared Owl went off hunting before the storm came,as it was the last I saw him,another close moment for me to treasure.If you put into place the simple techniques I have described you too will be able to get quiet close with a lot of patience,self belief and good fieldcraft, so when you get to where you’d like to be with your subject, the easy bit should be pressing your shutter button and composing your images.I will be back very soon to get some better images of both owls I hope and will update my blog.Hope the tips and advice has helped.


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Whooper Swan 2

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.14, 2010

Spent a few days again photographing our most beautiful winter visitor to the UK shores,the beautiful and elegant,’Whooper Swan’, I have been trying to get close up views of the formations they fly in, inches apart from disaster should they touch each other in flight,  I was trying to convey the organised manner in which they fly so close together as well.

Whooper Swans

I’ve been watching them feed on farmland from the outskirts of woodland on the North-West coast of the UK for the last 3 months.Once they have eaten they fly off to their overnight roost site where they spend the night,the sky is temporary a wash with white as hundreds of Whoopers taken flight.While waiting I had a Treecreeper for company,wanted to show the lovely patterns on the tree trunk and the splash of white from the snow during our coldest spell of weather in decades in the UK.I have composed the bird to give you an idea of how well these tiny birds blend into their habitat

Treecreeper

Whooper Swans spend their time here during our winter months before migrating back to their breeding areas which range from Iceland to NE Siberia, they depart from their breeding areas in September and reach wintering areas by November leaving the wintering area,ie UK, in mid-March for a May return .Whooper swans are highly vocal,with bugling calls,these are used during aggressive encounters, with softer “contact” noises used as communication between paired birds and families. Calls accompanying pre-flight head-bobbing are also important for maintaining pair and family bonds. Several types of threat display are seen in winter to establish the dominance hierarchy in the wintering flock, ranging from head-low threats and pecks to more dramatic neck-stretching and wing-flapping displays, resulting occasionally in physical combat.

Whooper Swans

There’s still quite a bit of time to see these beautiful birds that spend their winters with us in their favoured habitats of lakes, estuaries, marshes,flooded fields and farmland before they depart for their breeding grounds in March-April.They fly so effortless for a large bird and I watched amazed at how close they fly next to each other,all knowing there places without colliding into one another

Whooper Swans

The couple of photographs below of a Whooper Swan give you some ideal of their individual size and wing shape which make these formations even more remarkable

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan


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Barn Owl

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.09, 2010

As the country freezes in one of the coldest spells of weather for decades I have spent almost the last month moving from one location to another location in the hope of photographing Barn and Short-eared Owls in there habitats,and hopefully some close up shots.Over the last 7 days I have concentrated my efforts solely on alone male Barn Owl which has taken up residence over farm and marshland not to far from my home.I’d watch for hours on end some days and go home with nothing but the smile on my face as I’d laugh to myself knowing that dealing with wild animals is not always as predicable as you’d think.This laughter this week has also been tinted with sadness also as I’d watch a starving Barn Owl hunt over snow covered fields,making simple errors when diving for food,being mobbed by Rooks and Crows as they’d watch the Barn Owl do all the work and then rob him of his catch,knowing that all the energy the Owl had expended hunting was now in vain due to being mugged by the ever present,opportunist Crow family members.

Barn Owl

I have had some really beautiful and close encounters this week with this Barn Owl as he hunted for the healthy population of voles this area has with the constant rustling vegetation I’d witnessed as these rodents woke up and starting going about their daily tasks, as I lay in what for the owl to show up.The saddest thing for me was just watching the Barn Owl frantically trying to locate and hunt for prey as the ground had a small blanket of snow covering it which was made ever worse by the weather and cold conditions these and many more animals are facing during this unprecedented spell of cold weather we are having.I can say though on the few times I witnessed the Barn Owl hunting he was very successful in catching his prey and out running the Rooks,Crows that tried to take his catch,a real struggle for life and survival on all sides though,and with more snow predicted I fear for every animal that lives outdoors.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

On one occasion the Barn Owl came almost alongside me and started to hover as he’d seen something below,I couldn’t believe my luck,the sun was starting to go down and here I was looking like a bush, listening to the wing beats of one of my favorite birds that has enchanted me from childhood,he allowed my a few images until he called time and disappeared-WOW!

Barn Owl

I managed to capture the moment he was flying off with what looked like streamers attached to him but they were pieces of long grass he’d picked up with the vole he’d caught the following two images show you this funny spectacle.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

I am going back shortly once the forecasted snow has fallen to see this Barn Owl I’ve become quite fond of, hopefully he will have been able to survive the continuing cold spell which I do hope will break very soon to give everyone a break.  My aim is to continue  photographing this owl for as long as he lets me in this area.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl


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Owls

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.05, 2010

Owls have long since been one of my most favorite family of birds to watch and photograph,and I travel all over the UK to see them,their pull is that strong for me.So yesterday I visited another new site away from the failing North-West Coast where I’d spent 2-3 weeks on the run up to Christmas waiting in the freezing conditions for Barn and Short-eared Owls to turn up.This year though on the marshland and estuaries of  this area their numbers have been very low and quiet alarming.I did capture some amazing red skies there though and the ever popular ‘cheeky chappy’ male Stonechats that kept me company during the long hours spent waiting.

Barn Owl Hunting

The images included in this article are from this new site and I really was lucky to see both Barn and Short-Eared Owls on my first visit there yesterday.The conditions were perfect with no wind or rain and dry, the only difficulty for the hunting owls was that the ground was frozen rock hard and the image above shows the small pools of which their prey live and feed in and around in were all frozen.I composed the above image to try a convey this scene,with the frozen small pools and the owl small in the frame,with the setting sun just adding that warmth and wonderful colour to the photo,at full size it looks amazing.

Barn Owl

Most of the images I captured from the day were shot in near darkness at ISO 1000.,the image above was from early morning and one of the few chances I had until later on in the evening.The winter frost can be seem behind the hunting Barn Owl as I captured it quartering on this patch of farmland.I just love watching these birds I nickname the ‘Ghost’ as they are so silent and appear from nowhere then in a flash are gone

Barn Owl

In near darkness this Barn Owl seen above,  turned up and started to hunt,I managed a few shots and then a Short-Eared Owl showed up seen below,it had awoken from the area they are roosting in,sat on this fence post,had a look at what I was ,then went off hunting.You wait all day and nothing shows up then within the space of 5 minutes both owls turned up.

Short-eared Owl

Beginners luck on my first day I think!.Looking forward to going back with the aim of getting some close up shots of both owls. I watched both owls hunt and the paths they used, where they mainly hunted giving me a better idea of where to go,stand etc, so hopefully I can get lucky again the next time I go.I did manage to capture a Short-Eared Owl flying past me with a vole,taken with a slow shutter speed.

Short eared owl

Barn Owl

The last image of a wonderful day,the Barn Owl was heading back to its roost and I didn’t see him again, this image captures that as it was ‘Goodnight from Him’ and ‘Goodnight from Me’ as the famous line goes from one of my favorite comedy double acts ‘The Two Ronnies’ I hope you have the luck I had when you are out and about looking for wildlife, if you are looking for Barn and Short eared Owls remember they don’t come out in rain only in extreme circumstances ie feeding young.They like very little wind,hunt over open farmland and rough grazing,and favour dawn and dusk,good luck.


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