Recently I gained access to some of the buildings and estate to where I have been doing my Barn Owl project over the last several months. I went to areas the public don’t get to see, I was met by the former miner and chairman of the local group that looks after the site along with the council and also the head guide. Both were very helpful and a walking book of information on this 18th century coalmine.
Barn Owls are a bird that stir a great fascination and emotion for me, I have loved them since my very early teens. I have had a truly magical time on my Barn Owl project over the summer. As we enter the season of Autumn I just wanted to update you on whats happened since my last blog covering this project that you can read here.
Happy New Year to all my followers and clients past and present, 2014 is now gone and we begin a new year. This year at Christmas I wanted to do something for my local community so with two good friends we managed to raised just over £1800 pounds to give local children something to open on the big day. I sold off 4 limited edition Tiger prints, someone donated a signed football shirt and locals donated what they could to our online donating page.
In the end we managed to buy lots of toys for this local charity that cares for women and children that purely replies on donations. The Arch charity have four refuges for women and children who have experienced, or are at risk of, domestic abuse. They offer accommodation and a place of safety where customers can rebuild their lives before moving on to independence.
Once we had brought everything the next day we dropped everything off and it was a humbling and moving day in many ways, tinted with sadness these places are full to the brim with children hurt and abused along with their mums. When you see people trying to help it restores your faith in mankind. A big thank you to everyone who donated and helped, the toys were divided up between the many safe places this charity runs and all the children had lots to open on Christmas day which was our aim.
After such a moving few days and eating lots over the Christmas period it was back to what I love, being among nature with my camera, working on forthcoming projects that I hope to really spend alot of time on this year. Here are a few of my favorites before the colder weather closed in and the snow came down
So with a weather warning in place, roads closed and quite alot of snow fall on the higher grounds I set off for the Peak District. Extreme weather tests you and your resolve, the wildlife still comes out to feed and carry on their daily life. With a blanket of fresh snow and no tracks walking up to 600m in the dark with a small head torch can be quite strange as everything is covered and you can get very disoriented.Using a compass bearing on your small map and stopping every 100m to get a new bearing you can’t really go wrong when everything around you looks the same and its pitch black.
Once up at the top, I sat down in a small ditch and listened and watched the best I could. You suddenly hear calls, rustling and so forth and in the absence of clear vision your other senses work overtime to compensate you can build up a picture of what’s happening around you and who is around you.
Soon the Red Grouse were calling, seeing each other off with calls all varying in their loudness and pitch. I often feel as though I’m intruding into their world as they wake around me, unaware I’m hiding in the snow. The key to wildlife photography for me is fieldcraft, something I have said, used and applied from the very first image I took years back.
Every living animal knows your there so no matter what you dress as or look like they will have seen you and heard you well before you ever see them. Its how you as the person deals with that level of distribution that’s key and the foundation to your own fieldcraft. Red Grouse are mainly low to the ground, often out of sight, they do two things when they first see you – Fly off, exploding out of the heather and making you jump as you never saw them, or second they see you, put their heads above the heather and call, the sound, pitch and notes they call will depict how concerned they are about your presence.
Go to ground, make yourself small, offer no threat and their calls will slowly start to slow down, fading into a small chuckle and their heads go back down level with the heather as they start feeding once more. The key then is how you get up, get your gear ready and transverse the landscape between you and them without impacting on them and that takes time and skills you can only really learn on the ground yourself.
Those of you that have been with me to the Peak District will know what I mean and I have shown you on the ground how to move and work with these Red grouse and often with a bit of luck you can get really lucky once you apply those fieldcraft skills.
Fieldcraft is a word rarely used today in wildlife photography, many wildlife photographers have never used it now embrace it and talk as though they know it well and it’s their skill. For me it’s the most important element to your wildlife photography and from day one it’s the word I have always used and gone on about. I have written many articles and run many workshops and one to ones covering this topic from the very first day of turning professional.
Fieldcraft can be different from one animal to another. Real fieldcraft is where you arrive somewhere and through your own skills and ethics work out what’s around you, you find tracks, prints, poo and wait and watch and it’s something I have done most of my life. You cant buy this skill, you cant just turn up and the wildlife will be there you can learn it though in its simplest form and then apply it to your photography.
The rewards are massive in the end as you see the animal in its true form and see and witness things you never would see normally. Learning a great deal more about the subject which benefits you and the animal as you can see and watch you subject and learn from them. Fieldcraft and ethics go together for me and its good more and more people are becoming aware of this now and talking about it.
Workshop news and I have a few places for my Wolves trip in July, a few miles from the Russia border. The trip details are here if you’d like to join me. A real highlight for me in 2014 was seeing and spending time watching this family of Wolves, they are so beautiful and intelligent its beyond words. The following slideshow covers my 2014 trip there and a bit of what my clients and I saw.
To see all the other trips, One to Ones and photo tours I run then please click here.
A massive thanks once more to everyone that donated to our toys appeal, thank you to everyone I met in 2014 and for your business and I look forward to meeting new and old clients in 2015. The last twelve months have been really busy for me and this year will be the same, with lots of trips planned alongside my own projects closer to home that I look forward to posting here on my blog. All the very best to you all and thanks again.