The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the north-east coast of Northumberland. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the state of the tide. They are divided into two groups, the Inner Group and the Outer Group. The main islands in the Inner Group are Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef and the East and West Wideopens. The main islands in the Outer Group are Staple Island the Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar and the Longstone,the two groups are separated by Staple Sound.
As the season almost comes to an end on the beautiful welsh island of Skomer, it has been a wonderful year with some great encounters and images of the funny and very comical Puffins. Shortly they depart for the ocean and wont come ashore again until late March early April next year as they spend all that time outside of the breeding season at sea, which is truly remarkable.
Being so trusting you can have really wonderful views of these stunning birds but you always have to remember to put them first and to move out of their way should they wish to cross some of the paths where we are allowed to walk on. The following images have been taken over the session and its a stunning place.
Next years one day workshop dates are up now if you’d like to join me. Also next year I am running a 4 day, 3 night trip for up to 8 people to Skomer while we will still on the island and photograph when everyone’s gone home. For the information on this carry on down the page and please contact me if you’d like to join me in 2016.
Skomer Spectacular 3 night Photo Tour.
Join me in summer 2016 for an amazing experience, living on the island of Skomer alongside its wonderful wildlife. A magical wildlife haven located just off the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, 3 miles from Martin’s Haven, and covering 750 acres of habitat. Skomer is the perfect place to see and photograph Razorbills, Guillemots, Seals, Short Eared and Little Owls, Manx Shearwater and the star of the island, the Puffins.
DATES & COSTS
Cost for this three night trip is £480
Due to the Welsh Wildlife Trust not announcing island accommodation availability until October of each year, exact dates are not yet known but your 3 night stay will be during the height of the puffin season in May, June or July.
Everyone is welcome on this amazing trip from birdwatchers to photographers why all levels are catered for by myself. Skomer’s wildlife is very accommodating and everyone will have the chances to make the most of their time on this wonderful island
Please register your interest by contacting me on firstname.lastname@example.org I will then send out a booking form and let you know all the details, and answer any questions you may have.
GROUP SIZE AND ACCOMMODATION
this workshop is limited to 8 guests, staying in the islands only accommodation, a beautiful farmhouse set right in the heart of the island.
Catch the first boat from Martins Haven to Skomer at 9am
After a brief boat ride we arrive on the island and then we have a briefing from the wardens on the island. Then we head to our accommodation, unpack and make ourselves at home and have a warm drink and then head out after lunch to start exploring the island.
DAY 2 & 3
The pattern of event for the next two days will be very similarly maximising your time n the island. From sunrise to sunset and all through the night if you wish as it’s amazing on the island once it goes dark, we are free to come and go on the island and I will be showing you and guiding you to some of the best places on the island at both ends of the day and during the day.
We catch the first boat back to the mainland at 9am.
The birds, the animals, the landscapes along with the local food and drink keep drawing me back to this amazing island more and more each year. It has a magical feel and presence to it, a place I could gladly just sit and watch the world pass me by with no time limit.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful week with clients on my twice yearly photo tour called “Magic of Mull“. The Isle of Mull lies on the west coast of Scotland and has a breathtaking coastline of 300 miles. The climate is a mixture of rain and sunshine and from the moment you step onto this beautiful island the wildlife is everywhere and the scenery is stunning. Our base for our 6 day adventure was the picturesque village of Tobermory, made famous by the children’s BBC programme Balormory, with its brightly painted buildings. Our hotel is overlooking the harbour of Tobermory and facing out to Calve Island and the sound of Mull.
Mull’s climate is extremely unpredictable and at any time of year you should be prepared for a wide range of conditions. The weather during our time on the island was good and kind to use. There were days that were overcast where we had rain but on the whole the weather was good. After meeting everyone at the port of Oban, we took a short ferry ride over to Mull and then went on to our hotel that we were staying at for the week. We had coffee overlooking the harbour and headed straight out for the day.
The pattern of events for each day were consistant, ensuring that clients get the best out of their time on Mull. An Early start to get into place at one of the Otter sites to hopefully catch them as they wake and start to fish, then head back to the hotel for our breakfast at around 8am and then collect our packed lunches and head out for the day.
The wildlife on Mull is generally accessible with the few exceptions of specialized birds along with the rare and legally protected birds. These are not to be disturbed or approached as they are very senstive to disturbance, like the White-tailed Eagle below, which are doing really well on Mull, and so is the Golden Eagle.
When I have worked alone on Mull in the past I have stayed in one place for some time, getting a feel of the place, getting connected as I call it. But while leading a tour here for clients you have to juggle the need to see the wildlife along with the time constraints, as a lot of the wildlife can be viewed only a short distance from the roads, which for me is ok but the way in which I work is working the land so to speak and this is something I was very keen to show the group.
As a group we covered both methods of approach during our stay, where everyone enjoyed the fieldcraft tips and advice. I also demonstrated how rewarding it can be on many levels when you blend into the environment, leaving the safety of the car and try to become part of the subjects world, thinking about wind direction and movement, in readiness to take the shot if the opportunity came.
During our time on Mull I had organised two great trips on consecutive days, one was three hours watching White Tailed Sea Eagles on one of the Lochs, and the other was a full days trip to the Treshnish Isles. Due to the White tailed Eagle being so protected and looked after, close up views of these birds is almost impossible so this tip offers that chance.
Today Mull is still one of the best places in the UK to see these amazing birds of prey. After centuries of persecution these birds were wiped out, it was shot, poisoned and its eggs were taken. Rewards were offered of eight pence for anyone killing a bird and twenty shillings for destroying a nest. By 1800, Scotland had become the sea eagles only safe refuge, but even here people were turning against them. Shooting estates wanted all birds of prey destroyed and the Victorian egg collectors wanted their eggs as trophies. Labelled as domestic livestock killers, and killing many game birds, these birds were not tolerated the same as they were centuries before and so bounties began and the slow demise of this bird began at the hands of ill-informed people.
The last breeding pair of White tailed eagles in the UK was recorded on the island of Skye in 1916, and sadly the last reported lone female disappeared from her nest on Shetland in 1918 rendering the bird extinct in the UK, a truly shocking and disgusting story to even write let alone believe we did this to this bird and even today the same is happening to many birds of prey with people having the same attitude.
So after an absence of almost 70 years conservationists were finally given the go-ahead to reintroduce these amazing birds. A total of 82 birds were imported under special licence from nests in Norway. The first wil -bred chick since the extinction was hatched on Mull in 1985 and so the birth of Eagle watch in its early stages was born. One of the many people behind the eagle’s comeback is the RSPB’s David Sexton. His tireless efforts and work started back in those early days is everywhere to see when you are on Mull. I often bump into him on my many trips to Mull each year and last week was no exception. A nice man and for me has brought this bird to many people’s attention which is brilliant.
Along with the Golden Eagle its one of my favourite birds of prey and every time I see this bird my heart beats faster. The boat trip I organise for my clients on their photo tour gives them the best and safest close up view of this amazing bird, by mimicking a fishing trawler towing a small boat it sails into one pair’s territory and gulls follow us. A fish is placed out for the eagle and the engine is killed as we wait in perfect silence for the world’s fourth biggest eagle to show. Without warning this massive bird approaches the boat, circles overhead then dives for the fish, then flies back to the nest all in the matter of minutes.
The bird now has the best protection available in law. This trip lets people see these birds in the safest way possible, while maintaining complete respect for the bird. Martin the skipper of Mull Charters gives a good introduction at the beginning of the trip and explains all of the do’s and don’ts. It’s amazing to see these birds so close and every client loves it as much. I would highly recommend the trip and you will be completely blown away by the bird’s size, power and grace.
We visited the small islands of Staffa and Lunga the next day. Staffa is a beautiful, uninhabited island which is home to hundreds of seabirds and set within waters teeming with marine life. The island is best known for its magnificent columns of rock. The best place to see this is in Fingal’s Cave. The shapes in the rocks formed by the sea over time are amazing, they look like they have been made by an experienced stone mason rather than the force of mother nature.
Fingla’s cave is very impressive, as you enter the smell of excrement is very strong as nesting birds and bats litter the small ledges and over hangs as you slowly walk in using the path people have used for centuries, a truly amazing place to visit.
One of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s, Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals is Lunga the second small island we visited that day. It was a small journey to this stunning little island that’s home to my favourite seabird the charismatic Puffin. We spent over two hours on this lovely little island and from the moment you scale the landing steps and head up onto the flat top of the island the Puffins are not far from you.
Their calls can be heard first before they show themselves from the burrows and vegetation hiding them away from view. We all got into place, settled and let the birds relax and over time if you sit still and don’t make too many movements the Puffins accept your presence and go about their lives around you which is wonderful to witness and watch.
Puffins are going about their lives all in close proximity of you as long as you stay still and make little or no movement, capturing those moments with your camera. Puffins are beautiful birds to watch and spend time with. Two great days and two excellent day trips. The rest of the week flew by as we all concentrated on finding the elusive Otters, that had been giving us the slip most of the week.
Along with the White-tailed Eagle, Mull is famous for another amazing bird and another favourite bird of prey of mine the Golden Eagle. These birds are often seen soaring alone in their mountain habitat and aren’t as easy to see as the White-tailed Eagles. We all saw this amazing bird soaring effortlessly then disappearing as quick as they had turned up. I captured one adult bird with the image below flying over its territory among the moody looking clouds which added the ideal backdrop to this stunning bird of prey.
As each day passed by we saw Otters as we drove, hearing the plops and slaps that they make. I showed everyone what to look for to identify Otter activity, fresh poo, mussels shells and fish bones all real clues to the presence of Otters. The more moisture and bounce to the poo lets you know just how old they are, giving you a real time idea of how long they were in that area and how old the poo is.
On the last day we were all in place and I saw a female Otter hunting in the tidal currents, I signaled one member of the group as soon as I saw this, also telling my client to let the other guys know who were scattered along the coastline. As I made my way over the wet rocks and slipping like a beginner on the TV programme-“Dancing on Ice” she carried on feeding just out of shot. I managed to capture her before she vanished.
Throughout the week the wildlife around the island was amazing and every client got some wonderful images with lots of images of subjects they’d not seen before which was great. We were all sad to leave the island on the Friday but everyone had some great memories of this magical island.
A big thank you to the entire group for your company during our time on Mull, a lot of you were repeat clients so it lovely to see you all again. We had a great laugh and I hope you’ll remember my Puffin impression for the rest of your lives. Its designed to help you in the field and know when they land around you.
Thank you Debbie at the Western isles Hotel, a beautiful hotel overlooking the sound of Mull and Tobermory, the base in which I run my Magic of Mull photo tours each year. Great atmosphere, lovely award winning food and great rooms and service. I hope I helped you all in seeing the amazing wildlife Mull has to offer, and learning more about the island while learning and showing you real and key camera skills and fieldcraft that work on the ground, many thanks and good luck to you all. For more information and next years dates on this amazing photo tour please click here many thanks.
Fraught with danger, and extremely hazardous, it is the precarious life of many young animals as they now turn from a dependent youngster to an adult during this time of the year. The countryside is awash with animals, fresh from the protection of the homes built by experienced parents several months earlier. High pitched calls litter the river banks and woodlands, as birds, and mammals beg for food from their hard pressed parents who spend all of their time being attentive to their off spring.
Witnessing these special moments can be some of the most enduring moments within mother nature, as we watch the high level of dependence unfold before our very eyes, youngsters mimicking their parents, learning the key skills that will hopefully keep them alive in the cruel and often unforgiving world they are about to enter.
Over the last couple of months when time has allowed I have been watching a few of my favourite species, one being the Dipper and the other the Puffin. At the several different sites I’ve been visiting this year, some Dippers have nested early, others quite late and most have been doing really well. During the many trips to these sites either alone or with clients on my ever popular Dippers of the Dales workshop and one to one’s, they’ve been very active.
In most cases the Dipper nests really early in the year around mid to late March/April time. If the first brood is successful the same birds try for a second brood later on, one of the major problems then though is the water height of the river. If it drops the Dippers are forced to abandon the second nest as they follow the river downstream. This has happened this year with one pair of Dippers, where the river has dried up, leaving small pockets of water in which to feed in.
Over the last several weeks we’ve had a good amount of rain and at other sites where the Dippers have nested and were on their second brood several chicks have died due to rising water levels. The nests where sighted just under waterfalls and as the level of water rose, the power of the waterfalls have sweeped a large part of the nests away leaving 2 chicks where there had been 4 youngsters to each set of parents.
This left these small, vulnerable birds homeless and alone on the river bank as the parent birds struggled to find and feed them. The life of a Dipper chick is a dangerous one, as the power of the water calms many of them, then there are the many predators also. With a high mortality rate among their number nature has evolved these birds to have large broods and sometimes two throughout the breeding season but still only a few survive the dangerously insecure and perilous journey they take to become adults.
The young don’t have the trademark white bib yet, instead their plumage blends into their habitat amazing making these birds really hard to spot among the riverbank vegetation. The young I have watched that have lost their home have been well looked after, where the parent birds have hidden the youngsters the best they can in darkened areas of the riverbank, so fingers crossed these last few survive.
I have made a short film just to illustrate just how small and vulnerable this Dipper was, turfed from his nest a little too early due to the nest being damaged through rising water levels. Even this young their “Dipping” behaviour can be seen which was so wonderful to witness. The last remaining Dipper chicks on my last visit had moved further down river, following the flow of water and witnessing how attentive their parents were, so it all looks good for their survival fingers crossed, its one of the most precarious starts though within the natural world with a very high mortality rate.
My other firm favourite also shares that most precarious of beginnings into the natural world and that is the clown of the sea; the Puffin.
I have visited the island of Skomer many times this year and never tire of seeing these beautiful, comical and funny seabirds that come to this little island, off the coast of Wales to breed and rise their young for a short time each year, before returning back to the perilous stormy seas of the Atlantic. They come ashore early to late March and reaffirm their bonds after meeting their partners. Those that have lost or don’t have a partner then set out on the journey to find one as thousands of these birds come ashore during this time. Its a frantic time, lots and lots of action, but everything settles down and then they start raising their young in the underground burrows on the island.
My last visit there was this week on a one to one, after a bright start the heavens opened and we both got really soaked as Skomer can be an unforgiving place when the weather changes. I wanted to try and convey the changing weather conditions that were approaching the island with this image below. It shows the incoming storm and a pair of Puffins displaying a resolve to sit the storm out by staying put as the Puffin here in the foreground clearly demonstrated to us.
If you were a script writer that specialized in comedy you’d find it hard to write the script for these birds as they are just so funny to watch, and I am convinced they love non-threatening human company, once you win their trust and keep that distance, you can enjoy unrivaled humour where I’m often seen laughing as I take photos of these birds. Then occasionally they let out a long moan like call, which is their own way of communicating with each other, again it’ll have you in stitches as its unplanned and often unannounced when it happens.
As it rained we scrambled to cover our cameras and were treated to a few and brief sightings of Pufflings, the name given to baby Puffins. Almost Jackdaw like in appearance with no colour to them. These birds slowly made their way to the edge of the burrows in which they had just spent the previous several weeks living in underground. Really nervous at first, with an adult bird there with them, as a show of support for the appearance.
I could see as I watched they were nervous of which they had good reason as large Gulls always patrol the skies over where these birds breed. Alot of the time the Puffins get robbed of their catch, or even worse the Gulls take their chicks ,so extreme caution is always best. When this chick came out above, the adult bird seemed to be fussing over him, being really attentive towards the young Puffling, eventually he settled down and did a few wing exercises then went back underground. Lovely to see the interaction between the parent and youngsters, very enduring to see and watch.
At another entrance to a burrow a Puffin was cleaning as the rain came down and suddenly the young Puffin appeared, standing a little further out from the burrow, watching his parent clean. Their beaks will grow over time and their colourless appearance is in stark contrast to that of the adult birds. In a few weeks all the Puffins along with their young will leave for sea and not return to land for the next 8 months.
The precarious life of an young Puffin is beset with difficulties, fraught with danger in the waters of the Atlantic where they’ll spend most of that time, eating, sleeping out a sea. It has to be one of the toughest existence’s within the natural world I can think of, where only the strongest will survive and return to land after that period at sea.
Fingers crossed these two make it, many thanks to all my clients who have seen these amazing birds with me over the last several weeks, I know many have learned alot more not only about wildlife photography but also the behaviours of these two charismatic birds, many thanks.
Nature is a wonderful thing, her beauty, the innocence of the subject, and once you are among her you just don’t know what you’ll see or what will turn up as you walk the countryside. Over the last several weeks I have been visiting some of my popular sites within the Peak District, at the same time running my successful Spectacular Skomer one day workshops, where I show the beauty of nature whilst at the same time learning clients many things they take home with them to improve their own work and seeing the beautiful Puffin up close.
With British Summer time now well and truly here, those early starts for that dream light that all wildlife photographers wish for, start really early and sometimes when working late the night before it has paid to just sleep for a few hours as the new dawn is never far away. I normal meet the client(s) before dark and then we head out on the chosen day they have picked. In this case it was the amazing and beautiful landscape of the Peak District. A place I have visited for many years, building up a unique knowledge of the wildlife here but each visit I still get surprised at witnessing something new, such is nature, you just never know what will happen and you have to be among her beauty to get those amazing encounters.
Here the sun broke the horizon as we walked onto the moorland, nothing prepares you for that moment, the light, the freshness of the morning air and the orchestral of birdsong is magical, just pure heaven. We headed up as the sun was breaking through the clouds, fighting for a clear path in which to warm the moors below. We both set up and captured a few images of the Curlew, a large bird so at home on these landscapes, such is their wonderful camouflage. Your only real indicator they are around is their piercing loud, a single note call, which cuts through the morning air. Here he was flying past in the morning light, I managed a nice image of this wonderful bird as he was calling.
After that first few moments of beautiful light the clouds started to consume the beautiful light we had seen rise that morning, the temperature also drops a touch at that time of morning. The landscape of the Peak District is full of different and very diverse wildlife, from beetles to birds, it really has something for everyone. Our aim was to see the moorland birds- Curlews, Golden Plovers, Dunlins, Red Grouse and fingers crossed the Short eared Owls that nest on these moors.
We were greeted by a pair of Golden Plovers, a typical moorland bird, nesting among the thickets and heather of this habitat. They had young nearby so we just sat at a distance and watched ,staying low presenting them with little or no disturbance by our presence, they were calling each other as the female was in one part and the male in another part. Their call really stands out and it was an amazing moment as my client, Ian, on a one to one wanted to see this iconic moorland bird and here we were among them.
When the male Golden Plover had finally broken cover to gain a high vantage point to survey his territory the cloud had filled the sky and hid that beautiful sunlight as seen with the first image. The background is one of the high peaks covered in mist and low lying cloud. We had some wonderful encounters with this pair of charismatic birds as we blending into their habitat and using fieldcraft as the key element. The highlight of the day was an amazing 45 mintues with a pair Mountain Hare in their summer coats, going about their lives and feeding among the fresh shoots of vegetation.
Outside of Scotland, the Peak District is the only place to have a good population of these beautiful mammals, normally seen in their pure white coats. Seeing them in their fluffy Summer coats was a real bonus as they fed on the fresh young shoots after some of this area had been carefully burnt.
Very shy and elusive the Mountain Hare blends so well into their habitat, the prevailing wind was our best friend here as it was blowing our scent away allowing us to both slowly and carefully advance to where this pair where feeding. Even with the strong wind they where very alert, with this image above I tried to captured just how hard it was to see them at the same time capture a little of their character. They settled a little and carried on feeding and moving among the burnt heather treating us both with a window into their lives as we hugged the ground for what little cover we could use to hide behind and use to blend in as we watched this amazing mammal.
The background added a real different element to our images, very different to snow or heather as the different colours contrasting with the stark blacks of the burnt heather.
Heather is kept young and vigorous by controlled burning, if left unburned it eventually grows long and reduces in its nutritional value. During this process of burning the heather roots are left undamaged and the whole process ‘shocks’ the heather seed lying in the ground into germinating quickly. The burning cycle creates a pattern of different aged heather, the oldest provides cover for the Grouse and other birds, and the new shoots provide succulent food for birds, mammals and sheep. A skillfully burnt moor will have a mosaic of heather and other moorland plants of differing ages offering a rich variety of wildlife to this special habitat.
We were treated to one of those beautiful moments, spending this long with such a shy animal. I have seen and photographed them in Winter, when I run one to ones here in the same location, but it was a real bonus to see them in their wonderful Summer coats. We had a great day so thanks to my client, Ian, who was amazed also at what the whole day delivered for him and I wish you well.
The next day it was onward to Skomer where I was meeting other clients for my Spectacular Skomer one day workshops, on this amazing island off the beautiful Welsh coast, a stunning part of the UK. The weather can change without warning off this coastline, I have been caught on Skomer as the heavens opened and the cloud base dropped, it can be very testing. Thankfully for my clients it was sunny and very warm as we met early and waited for the first crossing to the island on that sunny morning.
We were the first boat onto the island, the BBC Springwatch team were there all week broadcasting live each evening from the island, so there seemed alot more people around. After the briefing you get from staff on the island, going through information to help your short stay on the island, we then headed to a favourite spot for Puffins. Before the main crowds come you can have a good hour or so here among these “clowns of the sea” as I have always called them, a name that’s becoming quite popular now.
It was a real warm day with bright sunshine making the job of exposing for the Puffins plumage a little difficult. I always try to show and tell people to work with what ever light you have or haven’t got and use it to your own advantage. We arrived at one of the most popular spots for the Puffins and settled down to watch at first, looking for flight patterns, their different ways in which they land and quickly dive down their burrows before the ever present danger of the Gulls who mob them of their catch, as the image below clearly shows. This gives you a good idea of the general movements in a given area and helps with your photography.
In this area there is a large cliff with many different birds nesting on its ledges and I was watching a pair of Fulmars, one bird kept flying off and around in circles, soaring on the air thermals, coming out from the darken area of the cliffs and flying into the direct sunlight, right over my head and then diving down towards the sea then back up onto the nest, amazing behaviour to watch and capture.
Effortless flying at its very best with these beautiful birds that are part of the same family as Albatross, Shearwaters and Petrels. These birds nest and breed in colonies on ledges and steep coastal cliffs, sometimes in burrows on inaccessible slopes. They are masters at exploiting the air currents to travel miles on and hunt all the time conserving their own fuel reserves. Sharing the same cliff ledges are Guillemots, Gulls and the most handsome member for me of the Crow family: the Chough, jet black with bright red beak and legs, its a strking looking bird that gave us a little fly past just enough for us to see this handsome bird at close quarters.
There is so much wildlife on this small island of Skomer, in each direction you look you’ll see something different, from Puffins,Gulls, to Rabbits. The different Gulls, all ranging from the small Herring Gull to the governor of them all, the large Black backed Gull all nesting in the own places, higher up on the island and away from the coast cliffs.
In the centre of the island their is a good population of Short eared Owls but during our visit we didn’t see them, but this little chap turned up and became quite a star during the week, posing really well as people walked past this section of rock this Little Owl had made home. So enduring to see and watch a lovely looking Owl, with real character for its size.
The island, the sea around it all teaming with wildlife giving this island its special status as a crucial island for breeding birds within the UK. The sea is rich with life and having dived this area myself before I know of the riches under its surface. This image I took shows the frailness of the whole area as Skomer and the surrounding islands are on one of the major shipping lanes around our coastline, carrying vital oil/fuel to the nearby refineries up and down this stunningly beautiful coastline.
Thank you to all my clients who have attended my Spectacular Skomer trips, I look forward to meeting those that have booked for the trips in the next month.
Puffins have to be one of those birds you never tier of seeing, their enduring faces made up like a clown have a place in everyone’s hearts. They have been a firm favourite of mine from childhood where I’d go on organised field trips from school and the YOC – Young Ornithologists Club, setting off on what seemed a real adventure at the time, to places were they live and nest during those few short months that they are a shore.
Animal behaviour has always fascinated me, I still have my first book covering the subject which I was brought as a Christmas present, such was my interest- The Animal World by Maurice & Robert Burton. I was not the greatest reader at that age but I was glued to this book, as getting close to nature and watching it was a major thing I did when growing up. I can remember those first encounters with the Puffins I had, armed with a massive pair of binoculars and my faithful bird guide called “Birds” – by John Andrews, a book that forms part of my profile images, matching the birds to the photographs was something I found great pleasure in.
By learning to get close to wildlife without disturbing the life of the animal, almost forgetting the outside world, and becoming part of the animal I was getting close to or watching, I could understand the animal better, gaining many skills by observing their behaviours at the same time giving the subject complete respect which allowed me a private window into their personal and private lives.
Skomer is a firm favourite of mine and having already spent several days there this year, the clowns of the sea are back in great numbers once more returning back to their old burrows. Their colourful beak and orange legs catch your eye upon first seeing these comical birds that seem very clumsy on land. The island is riddled with holes that are home to tens of thousands of Rabbits, Manx shearwaters and Puffins. What is truly amazing about this beautiful bird is that the birds live all winter out in the Atlantic ocean, out of sight of land, but every spring they return ashore to breed and raise their young before heading back out to sea in late July, August, so behind the gentle looking faces hides a tough and hardy bird that has to be respected for the way it lives its unique life.
Their affection towards each other is beautiful to witness, bonding, kissing bills all affirming their bond with each other. I watched as several males would gather,calling and stretching their necks in an display towards the female also warning other males. Parading around,showing off and watching each other,waiting for the first movement from an opposing male, seconds later two males would be locked together,twisting and turning, forcing the other to submit his advances towards the female. I managed to capture that behaviour by watching, looking and feeling the tensoin grow between these males.
Within my own wildlife photography I spend alot of time watching nature, listening and watching for signs,trying to build a picture of whats happening the best way I can. The art of Photography for me is a means to capturing those special encounters I have worked hard to achieve or see , which in turn make for a more well balanced image and account of that subjects behaviour and mannerisms within the wild.
So while I was away in Texel a few of my images made the press and different papers either online in a physical capacity last week, the Sun and the Scottish Sun,the Independent and the Mail. I received many emails on my Blackberry and it seemed to be going crazy while on vibrate mode as I was in Texel, people wishing me will and letting me know that the Puffins had made the papers.
All of which was really good. Its great to see your work in print so that people from all backgrounds can see the beautiful world of nature that’s everywhere and in this case it was the ‘clowns of the seas’ as I call them- Puffins. A few images have even made the picture library of Getty images which is one of the best picture libraries in the world, so big thank you to all the guys involved in making this happen.
The image of two adult Puffins “kissing” or bonding has also made it to the June issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine. A full page which looks amazing, so thank you guys. I run one to one days or Spectacular Skomer trips up until the end of July where you can photograph and witness these amazing birds, for more info click on the links many thanks.
One of the most important tasks for a wildlife photographer is getting to know the subject, spending time watching, listening and looking, learning its behaviour, its habits and calls. In turn all of this will reward you with a far better chance of capturing images that show the subjects natural behaviour. Most, if not all animals show clues that can provide an advance warning of behaviour that will tell a story within your photographs, such as fighting, hunting, and mating. It is also important to recognize the signs of stress within the animal so you know when to stop and leave the animal well alone. The last thing you ever what to do is cause undue stress and disturbance through your actions.
By watching and learning about the subject you get to know their behaviour and any sudden changes so that you can be ready by just observing their behaviour and patterns, which can change in a second, from peaceful to action images in a instance. This observing approach can learn you so much about a subject which will be key to improving your wildlife photography and the images you capture.
There are two approaches when it comes to getting close to nature, the first is to conceal yourself so that the subject does not know that you are there, the second is stalking which takes more time and a lot more skill and patience to master. Many species of mammals and birds will allow you to approach them closely if you are careful and take your time, no fast movements and using the correct techniques. Read the land for yourself, see whats in front of you, in between you and the subject, use natural gulley’s and shapes to break up your approach. Never make the mistake of walking directly towards your subject as the chances are the animal will have long gone.
Your approach needs to be slow and low, watching and listening, as other birds and animals will give your position away should you be seen. Look for dry grass, leaves and gather a small amount in your hands and throw this into the air determining the wind direction. Once you see which way the wind is blowing you can determine your approach better as most animals have a great sense of smell and its the first thing to give you away. The wind always wants to be blowing into your face, this will blow your scent away and remember to forget the aftershave or perfume along with soaps that are high in perfume as these will be picked up from great distances away.
As many animals and birds are very shy and very wary of humans, as a wildlife photographer you need to take great care not to disturb your subject as your aim is to get close to photograph their natural relaxed behaviour, making for a much better image. Getting into place before the sun comes up is also a great tip as you will have been there for a while before the sun comes up and the animal will not see you. Using good fieldcraft skills that I have mentioned will allow you to be able to capture images showing what they are doing, as all animals and birds are most active at dawn and dusk. This image of two fallow Deer was captured just as the sun broke the horizon and I was in place in the dark, set up and settled, which then allowed me to have a view and window into their behaviour and lives.
Is camouflaged clothing really necessary? Many people have asked me this question and for me its part of the fieldcraft package, so the answer is yes. Your shape, white skin exposed, straight lines formed by your body all need to be broken up. It works by letting you blend into the habitat you are working in, so if its snow you need to be white, on the beech the main colours need to be of a sandy colour and so forth. My own experiences and skills that I learnt from my army days have been invaluable and have proven that they are transferable to wildlife photography.
The 3 S’s – Shape, Shine and Silhouette, these need to be broken up, disguised as much as possible changing your physical appearance when you are working the ground as I do within my style of photography. If you are working from a car or hide you still need to have in mind that the subject will still see and smell you, so the need to break up these 3 S’s is paramount in the field. Avoid materials that rustle and its always a must to wear a hat to break up your silhouette along with gloves that cover your hands so light isn’t reflexed back from your exposed bright skin.
Clothing, wind direction, covering the ground, shape, shine, stay low, can all help in capturing those moments in nature where you have to work harder with some animals than others. Some species will accept human presence quicker, taking only hours, where as other more sensitive subjects will take weeks if not months. Its the way I work while capturing wild animals as I like to show them in their natural habitats, composing them to show others how they go about their lives, so correct fieldcraft and camouflaged clothing are an integral part to the way I work. Being at one with nature is amazing and with time and effort and applying good fieldcraft everyone is capable of capturing those beautiful moments I am blessed with seeing each time I enter the natural world.
Alot of the great wildlife photographs you see are as a result of many hours of dedicated and skilled photography, knowledge learned about the subject, fieldcraft applied, patience and perseverance, however, there are many great images that are also the result of a lucky encounter, where fast reactions of the photographer have succeeded in capturing a beautiful moment in time with that added ‘wow’ factor. Regardless of the level of photographic skill you still need to be in exactly the right place at the right time, if you wish to capture a unique photograph from the wild. You will increase your chances of this by spending as much time as you can in the field, watching, looking and listening to mother nature.
That decisive moment when it comes will be very fast and then over before you know it. Where the subject is in the position or the action is at its best, might only be for a split second but by applying all the elements I have mentioned you will be in a prime position to capture that amazing image. By remaining alert at all time you will reduce the chance of missing that killer shot as I call it, and increase your chances of seeing and detecting some aspect of behaviour that could alert you to an impending opportunity.
Thorough planning together with learning as much as you can about the subject you are watching will result in a great improvement within your wildlife photography. Adopt a mindset thatyou must work with whats in front of you, use the ground to your advantage but above all else relax and enjoy. Don’t put any pressure on yourself and the rest will fall into place. Also never mislead people about what you have used to obtain an image, eg- fieldcraft, hide, captive or tame animal, bait/fed, workshop and so forth. A level of integrity and honesty should always be displayed with your work where your own rewards for putting the effort in will be well worth it in the end by developing sites and learning about the land and the animals it supports.
All of the one to ones, workshops and photo trips that I run touch on all of the aspects of improving your wildlife photography, where fieldcraft is one of the major factors in producing lovely images of animals that live in the wild. I wish you luck and remember always to respect wildlife the images are always second to their needs.
If you would like any further help or advice on any of the topics I have raised then please feel free to send me an email here