In August’s 2020 issue of Bird Watching magazine there is a sixteen page pull on why birding can change your life. I’m pleased to have contributed to this and hope it helps to inspire people to get out, into nature for their physical health but just as important their mental health.
Over the last couple of days the weather seems to have become a little colder which results in those frosty, sunny mornings I love, where the cold hits the back of your throat while at the same time the sun comes up and bathes the countryside in a beautiful warm glow. Most of my wildlife photography is where I like to work the land, finding whats around me and the areas I visit, tracking through foot prints and waste food and droppings trying to build a picture in my head what has passed by or has visited recently. So over the last few days I have had a break from the Deer Rut and have been walking in my local countryside not to far from my Staffordshire home. A lot of the countryside at the moment has been harvested meaning sort, rough grazing and grass, crop etc ideal for one of my favorite UK birds, the Barn Owl.
While out walking over the last few days my attention was drawn to a few feathers, one a primary and the others being belly or flank feathers softer in appearance than the primary, white in appearance and in and around a prominent natural perch I had come across. There was also white droppings at the base telling me this was a popular perch maybe for a Barn Owl, I found a few small pellets or a mass of hair as they looked and upon separating them, something I loved to do as a child, tiring to rebuild the skeleton to found out what the prey was. I found a small set of bones and a jaw bone from a tiny rodent and I knew then that this area and perch were being used by a Barn Owl.
And here he was, with primary/secondarie feathers missing in his wing, the sunrise was amazing with a small blanket of frost all over the ground, not a bad frost but just enough to give that crunch sound under foot when walking, which by the way is not great when you are stalking a wild animal. I have spent a few days there and have watched this male hunt, he seems to have appeared from knowhere, as often Barn Owls do outside of the breeding season as they can become quit nomadic, wondering the countryside on the lookout for prey.
Amazing birds that I call the Ghost due to the fact without warning and no clue they can just turn up, hunt for a few minutes make eye contact with you as you witness their very distinctive appearance with a white heart-shaped face with no ear tufts and sharp black eyes all contributing to its striking appearance. Those large black eyes only let the Barn Owl look forward in a fixed position and cannot move to the side so consequently the Barn Owl has to turn its head to see to the side or back. Their hearing is amazing and the ability to locate prey by sound alone is one of the best in the animal kingdom.
Barn Owls are fascinating creatures and anytime I spend with these amazing birds is priceless. I have been back a couple of times and been able to capture him a few more times, I do feel with no sightings in the past here he may just be passing through so in the meantime its a very welcome treat for me among my other projects I am working on at present including; Mountain Hares, Short-eared Owls and my little female Kingfisher on the river Trent.
My advice would be to walk the land and watch and look for clues of whats around and you maybe surprised at what you find as this time of year so much wildlife is on the move in readiness for the oncoming winter. This for me is the true meaning of fieldcraft a word I hear used alot within wildlife photography, but fieldcraft means to use whats around you, reading the clues and signals all animals leave behind where most if not all the clues are right there all you have to do is just look that bit closer.
Your reward will be something you have seen and learned all about yourself and when the subject appears as did this Barn Owl its a great moment as you view a moment in their lives something I truly love. Its one of the main things I teach and show on my One To Ones and Workshops in order for the client(s) to take this skill away with them. So they can apply this in their own photography and get close to wildlife without impacting on the subjects life. If you would like any further advice or help on anything I have raised then please send me an email here many thanks.
Had a day visiting Bradgate park yesterday hoping to capture the Red and Fallow Deer going through their annual rut, but all was quiet on that front, still had a great day meeting up with some friends while visiting this lovely landscape in deepest Leicester. The day started great, with clear skies, stars shining bright the signs of a great sunrise were very promising but things changed as they often do with the great outdoors and a blanket of thick and heavy fog covered the whole area for some time, making the ideal environment for the Deer to disappear before your very eyes.
The rut hasn’t really started yet I feel due to the weather being so mild after such a cold start to the year, but as I was there the air was thick with not only fog but male testosterone filling the air as you could smell where the males where marking some of their spots in readiness for their annual rut that will start any day now. Over the next three weeks I have several One To Ones booked in there and another place in Cheshire, I still have a few dates free should you wish to come on one of these days at Bradgate and in Cheshire contact me for more details
I love the effect weather has on an image in particular fog and mist as this adds a real and different feel to a photo which when changed to black and white it really takes on an appearance of its own, very reminiscent of the very old Victorian photographs you see from time to time. The image below was taken early last year as the sun was coming up it started to burn off the fog and mist revealing this male Brown Hare sitting motionless in this field where again the mist has added at great atmosphere to the photo.
In between waiting for the Rut to start I have spent a lot of my time waiting for the water level to drop on a local river. Over the last week or so we have had so much rain near my Staffordshire home, where the river Trent has flooded the area including the place where my hide is. I have been watching these Kingfishers now for some time, where their activities keep me smiling all day, it’s a site I have developed and worked on myself over the last 2 months. I have returned several times over the last week or so and there was no sign of them including the young female I have become very fond of there as she tires to claim part of this river as her own with her ever present parents trying to move her on. So it was with great relief I saw her for the first time in a week on Tuesday coming close to where my hide was, perching on the reedmace that grows there. A few snaps then she was gone but enough for me to see her and witness she’d survived the flood.
I count myself very lucky in life to have seen and still see the wonderful moments in the natural world over the last thirty years of being an observer, a young birdwatcher in the YOC and now a wildlife photographer. So over the last two months on a private stretch of the river Trent near my Staffordshire home I have had a wonderful time just sitting, hidden from view under a camouflaged hide by the river, watching the river go by with the odd fleeting glimpse of the Kingfisher. Gracing me with their presence every so often and to be honest when you least expect it.
A perfect example was the other day while I was trying to make myself a cup of coffee in a tiny one man hide, that only just fits in my 6f 2 inch frame, with my long lens and camera plus bag and provisions filling the hide like the back of a removal van, there is little or no room ‘to swing a cat’ as the saying goes. The Kingfisher showed up right in front of me! It took almost 10 minutes of the slowest movement possible to put things down and reach for my camera to capture the female who had just landed on a reedmace I had positioned in front of my hide. Her tell tail signs of tiny claw marks showing in the reedmace giving me vital clues of her previous presence on this particular place, while watching the river go by.
She has taken over this part of the river at the moment and with her orange part of her under bill growing everyday, she is developing before my very eyes. It is lovely to watch her put those incredible fishing skills taught by her parents to great use.. Over the last few weeks though her parents, further down the river, have tried several times to move her and a male on and at times its so sad to watch as the male fledgling still at times begging for food in the face of real force from their once loving parents to move them off this already taken stretch of the river Trent, nature is beautiful but at times very cruel.
I briefly managed to capture this to the right of my hide, as the fledgling was being chased by the adult bird, she took solice in thick, natural vegetation along the riverbank, stood her ground almost in an act of defiance and defended herself by having a go back at her mother. Amazing behaviour to witness and one that I hope will stand her in good stead for the future trails and tribulations that will be in store for her.
This stretch of the river Trent at the moment is lined with a thick and dense tree line, reflecting its colour onto the surface of the water with a jade-green colouring at the same time not allowing much light to penetrate the base of the riverbed. There is lots of other activity alongside my hide, Mallards and a family of Yellow Wagtails keep me on my toes in the absenceof the Kingfisher as their call does in some parts resemble that of the Kingfisher, with a high pitched call, piecing through the ever present noise of the flowing freshwater. Constantly on the move, feeding, cleaning themselves as they seem never to stop for a moment.
I have mentioned in a previous post of this unique place, where an old bridge has fallen into the river and forms the back drop to my images. I am hoping to try and photograph over the coming weeks the Kingfishers and how they pass through this area, using the old blue bricks as perches and fish from them all the time as thousands of gallons of water pass by. It really is a story within a story for me and one I hope lasts for a good while because I have really become very fond of these Kingfishers, more so this fiery female who brightens up my day down by the river ever time I see her.
I plan on turning this into a local on going project where hopefully I will be able to capture the breeding adults behaviours and courtships throughout the year in this private and unvisited area of the river Trent where I have had so much joy working on this from scratch, watching and setting up my hide, only to have to move it to a different place several times a week at first, due to the Kingfisher’s having no set pattern. I knew that these Kingfishers hadn’t even been seen before on this private piece of land let alone photographed. I feel very privileged and grateful to have come across these amazing birds where I hope to capture them going about their lives as I have done over the last two months. A real labour of love for me where I will update my blog on my future adventures down by the river, many thanks.