On Sunday 3rd of January 2010, Carsington Water and Birdwatching Magazine are organising a Birdwatching For Beginners Walk at Carsington Water in Derbyshire.It is a free two-hour walk around the area and lake with the intention of getting beginners young and old into Birdwatching.The magazine is doing a feature of this long-running and very successful event which takes place every month and the magazine has asked me if I would like to come along and take some photograph’s for them,and of the event and surrounding birdlife.Also I will be on hand to offer any advice regarding birdwatching,equipment etc.As a youngster I was a member of the ‘YOC‘ -Young Ornithologist’s Club,which is now called RSPB Wildlife Explorers I gained so much by going birdwatching,also it introduced me to wildlife at a young age which was great,I went to different reserves and saw different places all learning about birds and their behaviours. It’s very good events like this are still happening today, and a brilliant way for people to reconnect with nature.
Birdwatching for Beginners Walk, Carsington Water, Derbyshire, starts at 10am,so come prepared for a great start to your 2010 bird count, Volunteer Ranger’s will be on hand and pointing out any winter visitors and other birds that make their home on this beautiful stretch of water.Over the two hours there the idea is to help and talk to the absolute beginners and to see what they get out of it and how their knowledge changes over that couple of hours with the help and advice that is on offer,I will be also showing a few tips I’ve learned and passing them on and taking photo’s of any birds we see over the time we are there.
It’s a great way to shake of the christmas and new year blues and to learn more about wildlife,so if you are interested or your children are then come along on the day or telephone Carsington Water on 01629 540 696 and ask about this brillant event,you also get the chance to meet the Birdwatching Team that will be there along with myself.I hope to see you all there and if you have any other questions or information then drop me a line on my Contact form
Timetable For The Day
9.45 – 10.00 People on course checked in.
10.00 Introduction, housekeeping and walk plans
10.05 10 minutes on a bird topic(s)
10.15 Walk to and round Stones Island
11.15 Arrive back at Visitor Centre, to pick up quick coffees; Loo stop etc
11.20 To Ranger Base to view feeder and Bullfinch (not guaranteed!)
11.30 At Shiningford Creek for viewing followed by reminders of next walk.
11.45 To Wildlife Centre to join Date with nature team
Noon Disperse……………. people can stay as long as they like
Above is the timetable for this walk and it should be a great morning for your interest the satellite navigation code is DE6 1ST or below is the full postal address
Spent a lovely day yesterday on a One To One with Gary Copeland,Derbyshire in the Peak District looking for Red Grouse,after a slight walk to one of 3 places I visit regularly we got into place and waited for this very shy bird to show up.The heaths and moors of the peak district are an eerie exposure of peat covered moorland sitting about 600m (2000 ft) above sea level. Large wind carved eroded rocks sit among vast plateaus and rock formations supporting a healthy population of Red Grouse. These iconic moorland birds make their home on these moors and are reliant on their camouflaged plumage to blend in to this habitat.The image below shows where we were and gives you an ideal of this habitat.
The image above is of the hard to capture/see female who looked in stunning condition,perched on these large rocks that litter this beautiful landscape, the weather was good to us in the morning but in the afternoon the weather changed and at 570m ( Altitude-meter in my watch) above sea level you get a real sense of the environment as you look to the sky and see the changing weather approaching.Neverless Gary and myself had a great day and I was pleased for gary as he managed some lovely images and learned alot about the Grouse,approach,what to look for etc.
I managed to capture a male Red Grouse up on a stone wall walking up and down, like something of the famous ‘Red Grouse Whisky’ advert where he is seen posing and performing,very funny to watch,seen below in this image
The Red Grouse is one of those beautiful birds that live a quiet and shy life,a very jumpy bird I have found over time and the secret is just simply to get into place with as little disturbance to the bird as possible and wearing camouflage clothing,make sure the wind is blowing towards you as this will take your scent away and just wait for them to show up,they often fly around alot and take some time to settle.I run Red Grouse In The Peaks workshops, where throughout the year I have certain dates where I take up to four people to the best site at that time of year or like Gary I can do a One To One at one of these site’s also. It’s all designed to get the best images for the client as I can and a better understanding of your chosen subject using my proven fieldcraft techniques and other simply tips I teach and showing people the beauty of nature.
And the male turned up just before we left and posed for us and I managed this portrait of this beautiful bird, a great day was had by all,thank you for your company Gary and a Merry Christmas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nature and wildlife photography is challenging but extremely rewarding,the creative side of things is a great challenge but also a lot of fun. If you like animals and learning about their characteristics and habitats then this photography is for you.Do your homework first!,taking the time to learn about the animal or subject is likely to pay off for you in creating opportunities for some great shots. Learning about an animal’s behaviour and routine will allow you to plan the best time for you to capture them. I tell people that learning about your subject is by far the most important discipline in wildlife photography far more important than the make of camera or equipment you use.With the weather in your favour you can capture nature in stunning light at dawn and dusk.
Don’t forget that patience really is a virtue when it comes to wildlife photography. Don’t expect to go outdoors and immediately find the creature of your choice,don’t expect it to stand still for you.,quite often the photographer has to wait in a un- comfortable spot for some time until there are signs of life. Animals cannot be forced to appear, or to stay for your pictures. All you can do is work with the situation when it is presented to you and be as fast and efficient as possible.When using a telephoto lens, use a higher shutter speed even if you are outdoors,a longer lens requires a decent shutter speed in order to get a sharp image and you may only have one opportunity. Also to help the sharpness of the image, choose a decent ISO, at least 400 since you will be dealing with a moving image.I teach people when and where possible to always use Aperture priority– F4,F5.6,F8,F11 are the key ones to use.Focus on the eye of the subject every time,birds in flight focus on the centre of the body between the wings @F8
Time of day
Although there are times where you may want to try night time wildlife photography,the chances are you will mostly be working in the day.Each situation is different but it is better to avoid the bright afternoon sun (unless it is a cloudy day) and the bright sun can affect how the camera interprets the image,animals may also hide away when it is too hot, looking for shade. As the sun goes down, you can also be treated to amazing light but you must remember to use a tripod because low light will result in camera shake without proper support. Different creatures may be accessible at different times of the day so bear this in mind
There are no hard and fast rules on composition although the general consensus is –get close.Check the background to make sure that it is interesting but not fighting for attention from the main subject,small distractions make a big difference to photographs and if you are trying to use the images for sale or a competition, you will definitely need to check there are no unwanted items in the picture. One of the most popular ‘rules’ in photography is the Rule Of Thirds,It is also popular amongst artists, It works like this:
Imaginary lines are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, You place important elements of your composition,”the subject” where these lines intersect, the diagram below shows you these
Compositon of the subject should be placed on one of the four inter-sections as shown in the diagram
Shown here perfectly with this Brown Hare running towards me and right on one of these inter-sections
Most of us will have Wildlife around where we live or have some kind of park where wildlife is rife. This doesn’t mean that they are any easier to shoot though! the key is being very patient and quiet, and remember to use a long lens.To begin with you may want to visit a zoo or bird sanctuary where the animals are tame or you can set up a bird table and put plenty of seeds on it and place the table close to where you want to shoot. If you sit there quietly waiting, sooner or later nature will appear. A 500mm lens is ideal if you want to crop out most of the background and frame the subject tightly. These lenses are very expensive so there is nothing from stopping you from using the lens you have and cropping the image down afterwards (although you will lose some quality).Morning or afternoon light is ideal for wildlife photography,It is bright but not harsh, morning light can have a beautiful,warmth to it that adds a dramatic effect,and animals can be stunning in this light – if you are shooting in your garden then you will probably attract some standard animals and birds, In this case, remember to be very observant,don’t just shoot mindlessly, look at what the animal/bird is doing that is interesting,is it drinking or eating?
Water droplets are nice to capture, so make sure you put out clean,fresh water for them. Photographing the birds landing and take off in your garden is brillant, capturing the movement of the wings looks stunning when done right,and looks so dramatic and beautiful.If you are trying to capture a bird in flight, you want to use the continous servo auto-focus feature on your camera since it will be too fast for you to focus on manually, combined with this function, where the camera will take photographs one after the other, you are more likely to get a good shot. If you take the time to study the birds behaviour and patterns then you may be able to accurately predict the place where the bird will fly to, so you could pre-focus on that spot and wait for the bird to pass through the next time.
And where possible try to get as level with the subjects eye(s) to give you a more level point of view and I feel making for a much better and balanced image as shown above
All in all, shooting wildlife and nature is both an extremely rewarding but a difficult task. The pictures you see in magazines and in adverts are not shot on a magic whim,they are most likely the result of many hours of investment,someone had to wait for the right weather conditions in the right spot possibly for days in order to capture the best shot. Patience is absolutely the key to getting good pictures of any type of creature.Don’t forget to select the best tools you can afford. If you are focusing on animals you may want to buy a telephoto lens first, If you are interested in plants and insect you may want a macro lens, It is always useful to have a standard lens, something that covers the 50mm mark, whether it is fixed focal or zoom, with a standard lens you can always choose a macro lens or less expensive alternatives such as an extension tube, which can work for macro or long distance work.
You will be spending alot of time outdoors and probably quite a lot of time low down, you should think about buying items like a roll mat, foldable chair, or some waterproof fabric you can place on the ground before you spend time with your knees in the grass, have little comforts too; wear comfortable clothing and footwear, carry some hot water with you for a cuppa,it warms you up from the inside and can lift your spirits if its really cold, and wear a hat if it is sunny and hot, keep warm if it is the winter the more comfortable you are, the longer you will be able to stay out and take more photographs,and the more photographs you take, the more chance there is that you will have a great shot and you will be getting better.Patience and luck is the key! I hope these few tips have helped you in some way and please feel free to contact me should you have any other queries.
The charity Help for Heroes was launched in October 2007 in response to the desire of ordinary people to do something practical to help our wounded servicemen and women. As individuals we are powerless to prevent war and we feel helpless that we are unable to stop our men and women from being killed and wounded. By joining together as Help for Heroes, we are doing something practical to help; we are doing our bit. Help for Heroes is very simple; we are strictly non political, we recognize that wars happen under any government, and we are non critical, preferring to get on with the job rather than talking about rights and wrongs
My image ‘Lone Poppy’ has been donated to the charity ‘Help For Heroes’ by myself to help raise money for this brilliant charity which helps wounded servicemen and women when they come back home to their loved ones.As an ex-soldier myself I have wanted to help this cause for sometime and capturing nature as helped me do just that. ‘Lone Poppy’ is a poppy on it’s own in a field full of wheat,for nearly a mile square there was no other poppy growing,its bright colour shone amongst the colour of the wheat almost like a symbol of hope,and remembrance.Its a small step for doing my bit to help these injured servicemen and women who have given their all and now need a little help back.All money from the sale of this image on my website will go direct to this charity,and you will be able to purchase it with a choice of 3 frames.The image is also available as a canvas in 3 different sizes,and each photo/canvas will be seen by myself and signed to ensure the highest standard
Their message is simple: it does not seek to criticise or be political, they simply want to help and to do so by asking everyone to do their bit to raise money. Once that money is raised, they go to the experts in the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force for guidance as to how best to spend it. It’s then their intention to spend all they raise on the practical,and direct support of those wounded in the service of our country. So if you can help please click on the following link; ‘Doing Your Bit’ and read through the various different ways you can help out.Thank You
A funny photograph of me in my army days just enjoying a laugh with my comrades during a break while on active service, I have replaced the original text with the name of this image and where you can buy it from, just a bit of light hearted fun.But I hope you can help this great cause and Thanks again.
I was contacted my a gentleman called ‘Paul Haeing’ :
Dear CraigMy name is Paul Haemig. I live in Sweden and run a free website at www.ecology.infoI am writing to request your permission to use one of your photos (Barn Owl with Breakfast) to illustrate a new nature poem that will be published on http://www.ecology.info/. The poem is titled “The Owl” and is written by Gordon J.L. Ramel.We selected your photo because it best fits the poem written by Gorden J.L.Ramel
I agreeded as I love to help out where I can and especially with projects that help/highlight the natural world.To view the photo click on http://www.ecology.info/ and click on ‘Poems’ then ‘Owl’ and you will see my image and the lovely poem,the image is one of my favorites and very pleased to help with their cause and I hope it goes from strength to strength.
Here is another photo I took of a Barn Owl hunting in the very last light of the day and here he is seen ‘Lifting’ off with something he had caught.
A photographic tip for when you are out and about in the field photographing wildlife and you get caught in a rainstorm is, firstly protect your camera equipment I useWildlife Watching Supplies, first class camera,lens covers/hides.Then try to sit out the storm or take shelter because after the rain has passed it will present you with some beautiful light in which to capture your subject.In the four images that acompany this article you will see During the storm and After.
During-These Bar-Tailed Godwits are seen here enduring the harsh condition of this rainstorm
Afterwards -The rainstorm has passed and the Bar-Talied Godwits are having a clean up
After this amazing rainstorm had passed the light and air changed,the rainstorm acted almost like a purifier in ‘Cleansing’ the air and light and it becomes a magical time to get photographing your subject who will be preoccupied cleaning themselves,so with some good fieldcraft skills in approaching your subject you should be able to get a close and different image in pleasing light,
Rain effects visibility by changing the amount of light reflected from the subject,back to the photographers eye and after rain that ‘Cleansing’ of the atmosphere create’s this clear,warm light perfect for photography.
As shown here with this juvenile Bar-Tailed Godwit feeding among the reed beds .With the same rainstorm having passed, the water became like glass creating an almost perfect reflection in the water and there was a sharpness to the atmosphere all as a result of ‘After The Rain’
If it does’nt stop raining you can always have a little fun and try to catch your subject in an amusing manner as I have done here with this Sedge Warbler in my version of ‘Singing In The Rain’
In closing I would just like to say where possible and with your safety and that of others first and foremost, just try to sit out the storm,you will be rewarded for your efforts afterwards by the beautiful light on offer.I hope this Photographic Tip has helped you.Good Luck
With the on set of winter around the corner and the days getting shorter and colder spare a thought for the animals and birds this time of year as their food become’s less available and some mammals shock up before they go into hibernation.If you have a garden place some bird feeders out,fat balls,peanuts etc and clean drinking water in a shallow bowl, very important in hard weather when other water sources may be frozen.Ensure you are not marking it easier for predators to catch the birds, place them away from fences and dark corners ideal places for ‘next doors’ cat to be lurking and waiting for an easy meal.
Make your garden a paradise for birds/wildlife and you will reap the rewards by being able to watch them all year,plant berry-producing bushes and trees,also plants that enhance insects as they are key foods iteams for tits and sparrows in the spring.Use old fruit from local markets and shops to feed thrushes through the winter,spread the fruit out onto your garden in different sizes to give all the birds the chance before the thrushes monopolise it.
A key thing with feeders is to make sure you clean them out regularly as good hygiene is imperative as Salmonellais widespread in wild birds,and wooden bird tables are difficult to clean and best avoided, also don’t put to much seed/food in them as it can go mouldy increasing the risk of disease,so aim to top up your feeds regularly when they have almost become empty . The RSPB do some brillant feeders with 100% of the profits going to helping birds and wildlife.
Feeding the birds and animals in your garden can be so rewarding and offer you a chance to see these beautiful creatures up close and give you a vision into their world while in the comfort of your own home. So its an important thing to remember that feeding birds/animals in your garden is part of the overall management of your garden and planting trees,plants to provide natural sources of food to sustain the wildlife in your garden all year round is the key, but at this time of year you need to supplement this with more artificial sources ‘Fat Balls,Peanuts,Food Waste,Sunflower Seeds,etc,never put out desiccated coconut as it swells inside the birds.
The birds will get use to you feeding them so please try not to break the circle of feeding as it will be a place wildlife will see as somewhere they can rely on in harsh times. Hopefully you and your family will get some much enjoyment out of watching these birds/animals feeding, seeing the characters of each different bird played out in front of you.
Good luck and if you need any further help and advice on how to feed and what to do please click here ‘RSPB’ and this will help you.Thank you and good luck