With the weather in the UK still presenting wildlife with some very testing conditions I find nature always gives off her beauty whatever the weather. I will be sad to leave behind the Barn Owls that I’m currently working on. Hoping that on my return the UK wildlife won’t have had more rain and flooding to contend with. For me though rain or shine nature always shines and makes me smile whatever the weather.
I’m heading to one of Europe’s most mountainous countries, Slovakia, leading two trips for Tarta Photography. I will be photographing Brown Bears within the Carpathian Mountains so I’ll be a little quiet on my blog for the next two weeks. Really looking forward to the trip and meeting clients during this time, where I hope to bring you more on this amazing trip upon my return home.
I’ve had a few one to ones over the last several days amongst my own work, photographing Red Grouse, high up on the moors of the Peak District. Also Dippers, where some river levels have risen and the wildlife have either moved or drown, which is incredibly sad. On the days my clients booked we braved the weather reports and were treated with sunny but at times wet weather.
After rain there always comes wonderful and very usable light for photography so sometimes it’s just worth taking a chance, where fortune often favours the brave, and those weather fronts I like to study turn out wrong sometimes.
Some of the moors are just starting to show some colours now, in full bloom it can be just a carpet of soft purples covering vast areas, making a wonderful back drop to the grouse. I have a number of workshops during the best times, so if you’d like to join me, learn more about these iconic birds and at the same time learn fieldcraft and how best to approach these birds then click here to see these ever popular days I run.
Many thanks to my clients for your company, where the gamble paid off and everyone got some very nice images of their chosen subjects. The message here is work with what you have and the wet weather fronts can pass as quickly as they arrive, but wildlife will still have to feed to stay alive. For more information on my one to ones I run throughout the year and at the varoius locations I know well around the UK, then please click here to be taken to this page.
Dates for my talks in 2012/13 covering a wide variety of my work are filling up fast, so if your a camera club, organisation or chairty that would like to see beautiful images of wildlife, whats behind the images and my work then contact me for more details and rates, many thanks.
Quartering over farmland, hovering with moth like silence, flying effortlessly on the wing in the half-light at dawn or dusk is the supreme hunter, the Barn Owl. A bird that has always created a sense of great excitement and fascination for me. In British folklore, a screeching Barn Owl is believed to predict that a storm or cold weather was imminent. During a storm, if a Barn Owl was heard, it indicated that the storm was nearly over.
The custom of nailing a Barn Owl to a barn door to warn off evil persisted into the 19th century, something you just wouldn’t believe people would do but back then strange things went on and happened to these amazing owls.
The Barn Owl had a sinister reputation, a bird of darkness, where people associated it with death. The Ancient Greeks and Romans saw owls as a symbol of wisdom. Athena the goddess of wisdom is often depicted in art with an owl perched on her shoulder. Sometimes owls were also viewed as messengers from the gods, full of wisdom and helpfulness.
Over the last several weeks I have been watching a family of Barn Owls live out their lives in an old disused building overlooking some beautiful countryside . In some of the most testing weather since records begin two adult owls have raised three healthy chicks that now are almost ready to take their places among our countryside. With the wettest June on record it’s been hard work watching the parent birds put their own lives on the line by hunting in this wet weather.
A lot of the time though the weather has broken and this has allowed the owls to hunt and build up their larders of food which is a key behaviour among Barn Owls. This stored food then helps during the long periods of wet weather.
With no sign of improvement it’s hard to believe its summertime in the UK. I like to study air pressures and weather fronts as it really helps within my work. The reasons for this wet weather are simple when you take a look at the weather charts, the jet stream.
During most summers the jet stream lies to the north of the UK, so rain-bearing weather fronts and depressions miss us and hit Scandinavia instead. This year however this jet stream has shifted southwards and is lying over France and southern Europe, this has left the UK wide open to these depressions and all this wet weather.
One possibility to what maybe moving this jet stream is warming temperatures between the Arctic and the tropics and the shrinkage of the north polar ice cap. These changing weather conditions and patterns may be around a lot more than we think in the future where alongside wildlife we’ll have to learn to live and change alongside this ever present climate change that are here to stay for sure.
My hide is some distance away, completely hidden from view and well camouflaged. The image above is the view I have from my hide and one of the perches they are using now, exercising their wings and doing their tester flights just before sunset each evening. I move my hide to a different place under the cover of darkness as not to disturb them and also once the dawn light comes up the wildlife will see the hide and accept it as part of the landscape. Again cutting down on any stress, and disturbance to the wildlife and in this case the Barn Owls.
With a mixture of different focal lengths, tele-convertors, crop modes in camera and time I’ve been able to photograph this family and capture them going about their lives at this location. Wild Barn Owls are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and so should never be disturbed in any way. I am using really high ISO’s on my camera in order to get some shutter speed, as they aren’t coming out until around 9-9.30pm. I never use any sort of flash with wildlife as I feel any form of bright light suddenly hitting an animals retina disturbs the subject.
When you work somewhere new like this site, you gradually build a picture of movements, favourite natural perches, flight patterns etc. This is a skill you have to learn in order to try and second guess where and when your images will come from. This takes time and is very time consuming but for me its the very essence of real wildlife photography. At the same time you learn so much about the subject, and the habitat in which they live. The image above is of the paler male Barn Owl perched on a stone lintel, he is so stunningly beautiful.
The Barn Owls use the main barn as well as some smaller buildings which often both the adult and young perch on. Hours pass by, with nothing, not a sound, then a white flash passes by my hide, a corus of loud hissing noises can be heard as the adult owls come in with prey. This image below is the male Barn Owl who likes to perch on the pitch of this old roof here and on this evening my hide was close and by pure luck he landed, stopped and looked straight through me.
I was too close really, so I went for a close up of his amazing and beautiful, heart-shaped face. I managed to take just one photo on silent mode before he flew off and carried on hunting, and this is that amazing moment captured here. The male has much lighter plumage around the breast and face and has a completely white chest nothing else, the female on the other hand is slightly bigger and has black spots on her chest.
The ability to see things that are hidden and hunt completely undetected are key to a Barn Owls life and survival. Often without warning they arrive and vanish before you have any chance to capture this. I always like to capture wildlife as seen on the ground, going about their lives with no disturbance by my presence at all, I like to compose my subjects on whatever they land on.
They are venturing out more and more now and it won’t be long before they completely leave the comfort of this building and start to live and roost among the many trees littering the surrounding landscape. When I leave the site in almost total darkness I often see one or both of the parent birds flying over the farmland with one of the younger ones in tow, their white bodies giving an almost floating appearance as they fly and dive.
Maybe they are having hunting lessons, learning their craft, who knows but it’s very enduring to see and both adult owls have been brilliant parents that have managed to feed and bring up their brood in some of the wettest weather since records begin.
I hope to continue to follow the progress of this Barn owl family over the next several months, where any day now the young will fully fledge and leave the place that’s been their home now for several months. Its been a special and privileged time for me to witness these amazing owls live their lives around me. Often I’ve just sat and marveled at their antiques, and behaviours, with each youngster having their own personality. They is one that’s just slightly smaller than the others and seems to need more attention from his parents which is so enduring to see and watch.
I will be releasing a few more Barn Owl limited edition prints soon which will be available framed or unframed and in canvas format to go along one of my favourite ones that can be seen and purchased here if you scroll down to the bottom of the page. Where 50% of the profits from each sale go to this trust I support with my work, because I love Barn owls and want to help them.
The Barn Owl Conservation Handbook is a comprehensive guide for ecologists, surveyors, land managers and ornithologists written by the Barn Owl Trust. I help this trust in any way I can in order to help this amazing owl keep safe and it’s survival. After the launch of this guide last week I received this from the Barn Owl trust, which was wonderful and I’m so glad my Barn Owl images can help. Dear Craig
I am very pleased to say that the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook we started writing in January 2010 has finally arrived and the first copies are being mailed out today. This publication represents a major milestone in the Trusts history.
On behalf of my co-authors and all the books future beneficiaries I would like to thank you for your unique contribution in providing your wonderful photograph of a Barn Owl hunting in flight during daylight that appears in colour on the back cover alongside Mike Toms testimonial.
Without your photos, the Handbook would not be as good as it is. Thank you very much indeed. David
David J Ramsden MBE
Click here to be taken to their website and to purchase this guide. Also this as many charities in today’s times is run on donations so if you can help them to carry on their wonderful work then please do so and visit their website by clicking here many thanks.
I’ve just updated the dates for my photo tours in 2013. I have added second dates on my Tigers of India trip as the first dates have sold out. If you’d like to visit and photograph Bengal Tigers in one of the best places in India with a backdrop of an old fort then click on this link for more details. The first ever Tigress I saw, several years back now, will be having cubs next year so again like this year my clients maybe lucky enough to see cubs alongside the Tigers there.
I have also added a new trip called Jaguars of Brazil. You can now join me on this amazing 8 day trip to Pantanal in Brazil to see the beautiful Jaguar in its wetland, woodland habitat, as well as a chance to see this amazing big cat. We will be working on the ground in Brazil with the very best guides to deliver the best opportunities for you to see and photograph Jaguars. Towards the end of the dry season as open water areas shrink, wildlife becomes more concentrated and visible. Areas in the western and northern Pantanal are the best places to see Jaguars in the wild and the chances of success on this tour are very high, click here for more details.
I also have a couple of places available for my Falklands trip next year should you wish to come with me and photograph the amazing wildlife this place has to offer, with amazing light and images everywhere. For more information on this trip then please click here to be taken to the photo tour.
In late August I’m off to Madagascar leading my 11 day photo tour photographing the amazing wildlife that’s unique to this island. I will be running the same trip next October should you wish to join us, again click here to see more information on this amazing 11 day photo tour.
In mid-September I will then be embarking on a two week trip to Sumatra on my own, photographing the Sumatran Orangutans there along with the other amazing wildlife that lives on this island. I will be working alongside a UK charity I fully support and help, SOS- Sumatra Orangutan Society, spending time camping and trekking through the forests of Sumatra in a bid to capture our closest living relative with my camera.
More news on this amazing trip on future blogs. A part of Sumatra, Tripa is in trouble at the present time and if you can help to sigh a petition to help then please click here.
I also offer One to One wildlife workshops, where I take clients to many places across the UK from dawn until dusk. Showing them everything I use in the field, along with fieldcraft, using natural light and capturing images with great impact. These days are very popular, where I enjoy helping people to understand nature, at the same time learning more about the craft of wildlife photography.
I have several projects I’ll be working on in between all of my travels, plus workshops for Calumet Photographic. Email me for further details on anything I’ve touched on or just general advice.
WWT Photography Competition 2011-2012
I have just finished judging the spring round in the WWT Martin Mere photography Competition with just the summer round to go before the overall winner of this brilliant photography competition is announced. A great standard all round and its a pleasure to be a judge, good luck to you all.
The days just flew passed during our time in Ranthambhore, India. We settled into our routine with twice daily safaris surrounded by nature, culture and the colours of this amazing country. By now all my clients had seen and captured some amazing images of Bengal Tigers which I was over the moon with. As the host of this trip I organise and run myself with great help from my friends in India. Everyone’s wish was to see these animals at the same time and maybe capture them on camera and that’s exactly what they all did.
There are seven ‘old’ gates within the national park and twice a day we’d pass through the main gate, which is the way to one of the 5 zones that you are allocated before each trip. Each zone is around 25 km plus in size, where your jeep has to stay on a small path which takes you around the chosen zone. There is a very strict code of conduct on board eg. no shouting/loud noise and you cannot get out of the jeep, it’s all controlled really well with the Tigers welfare being paramount.
It was great to see some of the guards which I had made friends with during my many trips to this place over the last several years. They do an amazing job with limited resources keeping just over 30 Tigers safe from the ever presence of poaching. They showed me around and were very kind and helpful to my group by letting us pass through the main gate and onto our zone for that day with minimal fuss. The photo below shows the ‘chef’ as he’s known, he’s worked for 38 years in Ranthambhore and knows every inch of the place, his wisdom and experience you just couldn’t learn overnight.
I took some presents this year for them, images of Tigers for their homes. I always get out of the jeep at checkpoints to shake their hands and introduce my clients to the guards. A warm embrace and smiles all round. They all deserve respect for the job they are doing and I try to show that to them in my way, as respect is earned not given my late mum always taught me.
I only wished the many politicians and people involved with Tiger conservation around the world could see the frontline in the battle against poachers and give them more equipment and resources, because on the ground we are asking these fellows to risk their lives against a well organized band of poachers. Once these Tigers have gone the whole area falls and the Tiger will not return, very sad but money has to be channeled into helping the guards around India in keeping the Tigers alive. I was shocked and saddened by how these guys stop poachers with their limited resources.
As on so many other safaris the lady of the lake-T17 was hunting and patroling mainly in the morning. Both jeeps had some wonderful moments photographing this lovely Tigress. Its real heart in the mouth stuff though as they seem to except the small jeeps we are in but I truly don’t think they know there’s an easy meal for them inside. This is always going through your mind as you take photographs as they pass by your jeep. Nothing can ever prepare you for this, you have to witness this for it to truly make sense. I hope these images convey those special and priceless moments I took with these amazing and extremely rare Tigers, showing just how beautiful they are.
Salim my guide headed off on one such encounter and we parked up alone some distance in front of this patrolling Tigress. We could hear the distant calls of Peacocks sounding the alarm, letting the whole area know a Tiger was around, we just waited and waited until she came over the hill, paused and walked down and pass our jeep. I chose to shoot with my fisheye lens trying to convey the habitat which I love to show in my work and give the subject a sense of scale among her kingdom.
This image below captured her as she walked past our jeep and then vanished into the cover of the jungle, this was close, an experience I can see so clear in my head as I type now, but truly magical.
During one safari my clients and I witnessed a part of history, for a few minutes but what seemed like hours we were priviliged to witness something that’s been rarely spoken about in the past and even rarer to see. A male Tiger rearing his young, totally unheard of in the tiger world. Only the female tigers were known to raise the cubs, but the male Tiger known as T25 has shown that the males also do it. Wildlife experts say cubs are usually raised by their mothers and male tigers often kill cubs they come across. Officials believe there is no recorded evidence of males behaving like this.
It is common for male tigers to never even set eyes upon the cubs they father, especially when the mother is not present and many male tigers will simply see cubs as food. Their mum died on 9 February 2011 and ever since T25 has reared them and looked after them which is just an amazing story in its self but to see them on this day was magical, truly magical.
We had been in place for over an hour, waiting at a small natural drinking hole that had been refilled with the overnight storm we’d had. Then without warning we saw T25 coming from the shadows of the jungle, walking with great strength and power. The males are completely different to the females. They are shyer and very aggressive in their nature. Their physical size is alot bigger, with a rounder head and massive frame. You know when looking your witnessing a top predator with great power and presence.
We had gone through apertures, shutter speed, iso and making the adjustments to our cameras with the fading light, making sure should anything happen that we were ready. T26 a male Tiger walked down first, slowly but full of life, he sat down close to the water and began drinking fully aware we were there and he gave us a look to let us know that. An air of total confidence and control with no fear of nothing, thats when you know your king of the jungle. We watched him quietly.
We heard a few small calls as he looked around at the different noises he’d heard as he was drinking. Then from nowhere one of his cubs appeared from the forest. She stood there few a few seconds looking for reassurance it was ok to join her dad before heading down to the water to drink.
She settled alongside her father as they both drank aware of the shutter noise from our cameras. It was a moment I’ll never forget, but at the time you’re just concentrating so much on capturing the moment it really doesn’t sink in until after. He was always on guard, so to speak, and you sensed his protection of her by just seeing them together so close. The other cub never showed but both are doing very well I am told.
They drank for a few minutes before T25, the male got up and headed back into the dense jungle with his cub following.
He led the way as he’d done when first visiting the watering hole, his cub waiting behind until he went first. I managed to capture him here just looking back and giving a slight call to his cub. She then came from behind a tree and followed her father into the jungle. It was very touching to see this bond between them both played out before us, thousands of miles from home as we witnessed history in Ranthambhore one of if not the best place in India to see Bengal Tigers in the wild.
The whole week was brilliant and each evening my clients had their own best images from that day to talk through. Each year the trip seems to get better and you really have to see one of these amazing animals in the flesh to truly appreciate their beauty. With so much wildlife in Ranthambhore the photographic opportunities are everywhere. A paradise in more ways than one for a wildlife photographer.
There’s something very human like when we look into the eyes of primates. Something that touches deep inside our soles where we see so much of our own human mannerisms. I did a close up of this young black faced langur monkey sitting close to his mum. I slowly walked forward as not to disturb the young one or the mum and this was the result making best use of the side lighting to bring out detail, shape and texture to the image, another wonderful and touching moment from Ranthambhore, India.
The week there passed far to quick and before we knew it the time had come to leave Ranthambhore and head off home. I wished I could have stayed as I really love this place and its Tigers. It has a magical feel to it, an old fort taken over by nature. We headed for the airport the same way we came, packed lunches in hand as we started the journey home.
A big thank you to my clients for your company and another big thank you to Rag and Salim for your help and expert tracking and guidance with the Tigers. Many thanks to the staff at the Ranthambhore Bagh where we stay, great food, warm welcome and a great base for this trip.
I will be releasing a few more limited edition prints very soon to go along with the 3 others I currently have, where 50% of the profits go to a charity I work with to help rise money for Tigers around the world; 21 Century Tiger. Where they spend 100% of your money in helping Tigers around the world, these animals are in real danger of extinction and need as much help as possible so that future children get the chance to see this amazing animal in the wild.
Next years dates and information is up on on my website here, so if you wish to see these amazing images and capture some beautiful images working alongside myself and two of the best guides in India then contact me for more information.
I’ll be giving my top tips on fieldcraft in July’s issue of Practical Photography, which is out the second week of June. Fieldcraft when working with wild animals with their natural fear of man, away from per-planned perches, baited set ups and captive animals is the most important tool in any wildlife photographers toolbox.
Capturing real images as seen on the ground and not changed by the hand of man is what wildlife photography means to me as a professional, its the way I work when among nature. I go through what works on the ground and how you can almost think like wildlife and become part of the landscape. All built on respect for your subject and wildlife around you, this is the foundation to my work today so I hope you enjoy the article.
And just before I go there are still a few places left on my Summer Tide workshop in Norfolk in conjunction with Calumet Photographic, for more information and bookings please click on this link. or click on their seminars page for Manchester and Drummond street branches with more workshops and talks planned very soon. For an idea of what you may see on this day then click on a previous interview I did here with Practical Photography covering my passion for this amazing event.
Spring time for me is the best time of year. Wildlife is everywhere and bird song fills the air, even more so over the last several days, waking up to several inches of thick snow on the moors of the Peak District. I thought this maybe an April fools too far. During the last ten days or so I have enjoyed the very warm temperatures of spring whilst in Norfolk and other places around the UK running my one to ones and also my own project work.
Great Crested Grebes, Brown Hares, Barn owls and many more species all settling down, starting to pair up and begin a family at this wonderful time of year. I had a one to one in Norfolk and really enjoyed showing my client around. We captured some wonderful images of Barn Owls, Brown Hares and waders during the day and Ben wrote a lovely blog post with some great images which can be seen by clicking here
“You couldn’t make it up if you tried” first came to mind, as I had two one to ones booked in to photograph Red Grouse on the moors, the heavens opened and inches of snow fell. Some roads in and out of Buxton where closed so it was really touch and go on whether the days went ahead. I made contact with both clients as a blanket of thick snow in early April really is unheard of. Also very worrying for the wildlife sitting on eggs and trying to breed/mate while the weather was plunged into freezing, wintery conditions.
Both of my Red Grouse one to one clients where great sports and both days went ahead as planned. The first day was a little tougher due to the snow being at its highest from the previous day’s downfall. We had to walk in places knee deep in snow as we ascended in darkness to where the grouse live and play out their lives among the higher regions of the Peak District.
Walking through thick snow with heavy kit bags does get you warm. Full credit to Steve though who knuckled down and was rewarded for his efforts with some amazing encounters of both male and female Red Grouse, the words “you only get out what you put in” ringing around the place as we sat down and drank our cups of tea some 600 meters up above sea level.
I always tell clients that the best way to see and in turn take your photographs is just sit and watch, read and listen to nature, she will tell you what’s around and what is happening. Never force anything and never go with a shopping list of shots you wish to capture. Adopt this approach along with care and respect for your subject and you get some wonderful moments into a wild animals life. On both days both clients did just so and had some lovely encounters with this iconic moorland bird that is so at home within this sometimes unforgiving habitat.
Rival males posing to each other and fighting over their females, trying their luck. We even witnessed a grouse having a snow bath. Cleaning his feathers among the deep snow. Animal behaviour is amazing to see and capture and I showed some key techniques and fieldcraft which enabled both clients to read a little more into what was happening, in turn resulting in lovely moments where we came close to these birds on so many occasions, peering into their world through their eyes. This always has a deep and long lasting impact on me, making that contact with nature is priceless.
The weather on both days started well but became foggy on the second day but again the grouse came close and carried on with their lives around us which was magic and true, real wildlife photography for me. Blending in, using what’s around you and just watching and working the land. Thank you Steve,Nigel also Ben for your company over the last several days and I wish you well in your photography.
What a difference a few weeks makes and always be careful what you wish for. In my last blog I was only just saying how mild it was for this time of year and how wildlife has almost started making a home in readiness to rear their young. Cold temperatures and snow with freezing fog and frost all mixed in over the last several days, giving nature the worst kind of wake up call. You must never take anything for granted more so nature as this just may come back and bite you when you least expect it.
Grabbing my camera on one such day I captured a few images of the birds from my local park , looking for a different angle in which to capture the bird’s spirit.
Once the roads had cleared a little I did manage to visit the Peak District with Paul my client where we were hoping to see Red Grouse. The snow was also a wonderful bonus, as it had fallen covering the whole area in a beautiful blanket of snow. Thank you Paul for being a great sport in such testing conditions when walking up to where the grouse were.
I have just spent a couple of days in Norfolk photographing a much loved event in nature’s calendar, the Spring Tides. I’ve written so much about these days and had articles published showing my images. It was nice to be back and witness this event over the last couple of days having not been to Norfolk since November due to work commitments. Little did I know what was waiting for me in Norfolk, as I set off for this event from my Staffordshire home in the early hours of the morning, with the weather changing constantly as I passed through the different counties on route to Nelsons County, Norfolk.
You park up and get dressed ready for any event the weather may throw at you. Snettisham and the surrounding areas are open and very bleak where great care must be exercised in poor weather. Once in place depending on the tide times your normally greeted with a fanfare of calls, sometimes if your timings are spot on the sky can be awash with actively too as flocks seem to wiz by you, feet above your head, drowning you in a vast chorus of noise and calls as they whistle past. It’s a truly remarkable feeling and one you just never tire of witnessing in whatever weather or conditions.
A mixture of different light conditions and weather gave me a chance to play around with compositions and shutter speeds, giving a different effect and feel to my images. The slow shutter speed images are something I have always loved to do when photographing wildlife. I like to refer to this practise that I am so fond of within my work as capturing the animals but in slow motion. Freezing a moment in time, giving the image a sense of movement in the absence of any sound is what I hope to achieve by using this technique.
I mentioned their sound and if you could hear the noise generated by these birds during these spring tides it would mesmerize you, it’s so uplifting to hear. A bird adding a different key or note, I always like to try and listen then listen again to hear those individual bird calls because if you view the flock as a whole it’s hard to make out which birds are there and which aren’t.
This part of Norfolk is always bleak and remote offering you a great platform in which to view this amazing spectacle. Different days offer different images for me, where I am always trying to capture something different, learning from the past visits here. On the whole it was a good few days with many lovely images, once the peace returns and the tide begins to retreat the waders start their return back to the mudflats. When it gets to this point there’s always the queue to leave and I go back to my transport for a warm drink and often to dry off.
There are several areas in Norfolk I have regularly visited over the years to watch and hopefully photograph Barn Owls, and I was lucky enough during my recent time there to have seen two pairs at two of the four locations I know of. The others maybe there but the weather may have played a part in them staying in rather than venturing out. Again as previously mentioned I am always looking to push my own photography when I am alone and not with clients. Seeing something different and then trying to capture that idea with my camera.
This is one of the main parts of photography that always excites me, as my arty streak in me comes out and working alongside your cameras abilities you can often capture something different. With the few sightings I witnessed of the Barn Owls I tried different compositions, manual focusing, and extreme positioning of the subject in the corners of my viewfinder, creating lots of blank and open spaces to the front of the main subject.
Norfolk’s also a great place to for Brown Hares and I came across a few during my time there, wonderful mammals to spend time with and watch.
Many different images from the various different weather conditions that I’ve endured and as I write this blog there are still areas of the country where snow is around, but in the coming week the temperatures are set to rise so maybe nature has seen the last of winter now but I don’t want to speak to soon as before. On a serious note I do hope wildlife hasn’t suffered to much during the recent cold spell and fingers crossed spring is just around the corner.
Tigers around the world need help, they are crucially endangered, with their numbers in the wild at a dangerous level. Upon first seeing these animals in the wild it reddened me speechless because of their amazing beauty. They cannot just be left to die out with just a few remaining in zoos and parks. A world devoid of wild Tigers would be a very sad place indeed.
Through 3 limited edition prints I raise money to help these beautiful animals, where 50% of the profits from the sale of these images goes directly to 21st Century Tiger. They spend every penny on saving this most beautiful of animals we have roaming the earth at present. In several weeks I return to India once more hoping to share my passion for these animals with my clients booked onto my Tigers of India photo tour. Each one has a dream of seeing these animals and along with the brilliant guides I work with there I hope to show and help each person capture some wonderful images of this amazing animal.
I am donating one of my 2010 Year of the Tiger images as the first prize in a photography competition for another UK Tiger charity called TIGERS4EVER.org. It hopes to raise awareness of the plight of the Tiger in the wild. The print is only 1 of 100 ever printed and will be the first prize in this competition. Calumet UK are very kindly supporting Tigers4Ever’s 11-16 age category photographic competition also with a 1st prize of £100 Calumet gift vouchers.
If you are interested in entering and helping this charity where all monies raises through this competition goes towards helping Tigers then please click on this link http://www.tigers4ever.org/ many thanks and the best of luck.
There is a real air of spring around at the moment among the UK countryside, with the odd spell of frost or even snow on the higher grounds, just to add to the confusion for nature. 2011 was one of the warmest years on record with lengthy periods of warm weather each month right up until the end of the year. In with the New Year and again those mild, warm temperatures seem to be still with us with little promise of the cold spells we’ve had in previous years.
On the ground nature is confused, the sudden warming temperatures for this time of year is playing a cruel game with nature, one minute warm the next an overnight frost. You can see and hear the birds singing to attract a mate, defending their territories with great cause. Dippers displaying and starting to gather nesting material, the countryside really feels like it should be much later than it really is due to the influence of the warmer weather.
Mother Nature is powerful though and animals and plants will overcome and survive. I believe as nothings is as powerful as nature. While being among wildlife you get the impression that you’ve missed something or they have, what I mean is by watching the behaviours of the wildlife its seems that winter has been by-passed and were heading straight into the season of spring. I really hope that the cold spells of weather that nature has endured in 2010 and 2011 wont now come along and catch the wildlife out as that would be one of the cruelest lessons in which to learn from. However, I fear that this could happen quite soon.
As each year passes and we hear that a warming record has been broken, or nearly broken again, it provides further evidence that unfortunately we are not just seeing a natural cycle of global warming, but instead humans are having an effect on the climate. I am not qualified on paper to start debating what is right or wrong I just know on the ground among wildlife things are changing and I do hope nature won’t be caught in between these warming temperatures and strange happening among the seasons.
Over the last three months though there has been one bird that seems to be doing really well within the warming temperatures and that is the beautiful Short-eared Owl that seems to have invaded many areas of the UK feeding on the bountiful supply of rodents. The internet is awash with brilliant images showing this often rarely seen owl outside of the breeding season. Recently I have spent back to back days there trying to capture different angles and images of these stunning owls.
Over that time the owls are late risers and rarely come out before the early afternoon but I go there at dawn and wait as you never know what may happen, as the site has other birds of prey. Fortune often rewards me and I was lucky enough to see a lone Shot-eared owl hunting in the morning light. I’d located an area in which these ground dwelling birds roost overnight and then just suddenly appear in the afternoon. I set my gear up overlooking this area, not to close to disturb them, placing my converter on my long lens as I waited.
Often the periods of waiting were greater than the time I’d see them but for me it’s just the enjoyment of being around wildlife. That’s enough for me anything else is always a bonus. I often say I could sell all my camera equipment tomorrow and still be happy sitting and watching with my binoculars.
I have witnessed them diving for prey, perched in the morning light, and hunting in the pouring rain, which is very rare to see. This is a costly exercise for owls as they don’t do well in rain. As I witnessed this it does pull on my heart strings as you just know that owl is hungry and gathering enough food to stay alive. It was tough viewing this.
I also have had some lovely encounters with a pair of Barn Owls that have lived in this area for some time now. They appear when they want to and unlike some Barn Owls I photograph in Norfolk they are rarely seen in the day. They don’t have any routine here and this Barn Owl came out as the sun was setting and gave the whole area a lovely warming glow and feel, which is a welcome relief if you have been there since before dawn. You have to use fieldcraft skills and patience when photographing owls as they sometimes fly past you, and in this case straight at me. Another amazing encounter as the sun was setting. I am really lucky to see and witness this.
Their hearing is one of the best in the animal kingdom so great care when you start to shoot is needed otherwise they will bank off from where they hear that noise, in this case the camera shutter, so hold your nerve and wait and then press when you’re happy. I’ve seen some wonderful behaviour in both the Short-eared owls and this pair of Barn Owls recently that I have tried to capture within these images.
After the success of my previous wildlife workshops with Calumet Photographic I have several others now lined up on their seminars page. Two dates for the amazing Spring/Summer Tides in Norfolk covering this event which has captivated me for many years and Sping Time on the Moors in the Peak District. For those that live in and around the capital, London, I will be doing a two day Beauty of Wildlife workshop at Calumets Drummond Street branch on April 14th and 15th. These workshops are open to all skill levels and backgrounds within wildlife photography.
The workshops are designed to give you the best opportunities to take the best images from your day in the field whatever nature throws up. To ensure that everyone’s needs are met the workshops are limited to 8 participants. You’ll be in good company, sharing your ideas, images and love of photography amongst the beauty of wildlife.
You’ll take your photography to the next level and in the process you’ll immerse yourself in your photography and I will be right there giving you a personal photography lesson. For more details click here to be taken to Calumets seminars page, then either click on the Drummond Street branch in London or the Manchester branch to see the full list of wildlife workshops that I am doing in conjunction Calumet Photographic.
During the last several days I have been busy working in my office, the great outdoors, as I call it, amongst nature which is a place I find great peace in, capturing more magical moments. With a couple of one to ones in the Peak District, and a visit to the SWPP conference alongside PhotoTraining4U who had a stand there, my other free time has been put to good use watching and looking at the several subjects I am hoping to photograph this year. It’s always enjoyable at the same time very time consuming setting up your own work from scratch. But when it works and you see the subject(s) and capture them going about their lives it’s the best feeling you can possibly have as wildlife photographer.
I have been lucky enough over this time to have had some wonderful close encounters once again with different wildlife, the Short eared Owls are still very much around, hunting in the late afternoon sunlight. They normally stay at sea level until around late February to early March, but with the warmer temperatures they may just disappear at anytime. They are also very nomadic out of the breeding season and once a food source has dried up in the area that they are staying in they just leave without warning and find another vole rich habitat in which to spend their winter months before returning to their spring breeding grounds.
A Kestrel hovering right above me in the first rays of dawn light was one such magical moment. I got into place just before dawn, hid myself away along a natural gully and waited, as the sun’s rays began to warm me I heard Magpies and Crows calling which can give you your first clue wildlife is around. In most cases they call when there’s a bird of prey around hoping their calls and mobbing behavior will somehow move that bird on. I watched this Kestrel, hunt, then back track on itself, covering the ground in a sweeping motion, doubling back on himself to cover every inch.
He carried on coming forward, searching in vain the grasses and reeds below him, those same reeds that were sheltering me. He then hovered right about me, and in the still of the morning I could just make out his faint wing beats as I watched and captured that moment with my camera. We made eye contact, watching each other which always has a deep impact on me, a powerful feeling I cannot explain. Those briefest of moments are captured here with these images shot with my 1.4 converter on. He stayed for around 15-20 seconds then went. He’d heard me and as I am writing this blog I can see him looking down at me, remembering that moment as though it was seconds ago, that’s the power of nature.
Barn Owls are without doubt though one if not my favourite UK birds, and I have enjoyed lovely moments too over the last several days with these beautiful owls. Only recently I have read with great interest a report on how they hunt. Having been fascinated with this bird from childhood I’ve learned a lot about them and their feather structures having taken them home with great interest having found them on the ground. The way in which they hunt or quarter and their heart shaped faces have always amazed me, the heart-shaped face works in a similar way to humans outer ear , collecting and directing sound toward the inner ears which helps this amazing hunter do what it does best, slightly glide over land hunting in almost pure silence.
The report has found that each of a Barn Owls ears is a slightly different size and shape, and one is higher on the bird’s head than the other. The owls can analyse the differences in the sound received by each ear to automatically calculate the exact position of that sound-source. Which means that they can detect prey below them in pure darkness and hunt with great effectiveness and stealth. In most parts Barn Owls hunt in the dark so visual information is not possible, so their hearing really is their lifeline. Flying in silence helps them listen for movement, prey that’s moving.
Most if not all of the owls plumage is covered in a dense covering of feathers, those feathers produce more lift with each beat due to their shape and design, having a high curvature. This design allows the air to pass through and they offer little turbulence, reducing friction noise between the feathers. The end result is one of the most prolific hunters within the natural world. And the report suggests in time the structure of the Barn Owls wing may provide a guide for the design of quieter and more efficient airfoils for the aviation industry. Proving yet again that so many designs of man-made products are derived from the wonderful world of Mother Nature.
Barn Owls are amazing and they are just so wonderful to watch and photograph, the following slide show shows images taken over the last three years, from several different sites, showing these amazing birds of prey hunting and flying on the wing, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did putting these images together.
Thank you to my two clients, Mike and John for your company on your one to ones within the beautiful Peak District. I will continue working on my subjects and fingers crossed I’ll have some wonderful images to post on my blog in the coming months.