Entries Tagged ‘Wildlife Workshops’:

Precarious Start In Life

Filed in Animal Behaviour, Wildlife, Workshops on Jul.08, 2011

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.

 

 

 


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Mull-Sculpted By Nature

Filed in Photography Tips, Places Of Interest, Workshops on Jun.27, 2011

Mull is a magical, raw, unplanned and thought provoking place where you can see and view beautiful wildlife. Red Deer roam the hills, Eagles soar over the skylines, Seals bask on exposed banks and Otters frequent the many bays and inlets along Mulls coastline. Almost every other telegraph pole there’s a lone Buzzard sitting, acting as a physical welcome to the island.  Mull’s magic derives from its special blend of mountain and coastal landscape which forms such a tremendous variety of habitats that offer excellent opportunities for wildlife.

For me the most memorable aspect of being on this beautiful island is viewing the abundance of wildlife against the entrancing background of tranquil loch shores and beautiful woodlands, amongst the architecture of amazing mountains, with the mornings being the best to see this island awaken.

I’ve just returned from a wonderful week with clients on my twice yearly photo tour I call “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. The hotel is overlooking the harbour of Tobermory and facing out to Calve Island and the sound of Mull, which can be seen in the below image, on one of the many sunny days we had there during our stay on 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 and hopefully catch them as they wake and start to fish, head back to the hotel for our breakfast at around 8am,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 that are not to be disturbed or approached as they are very senstive to disturbance.

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 contacted 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 alot 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 this 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, movement, in readiness to take the shot if you come across a chance and other fieldcraft tips and examples I showed and demonstrated. On the first day everyone had seen and captured some lovely images including the very shy male “dog” Otter that would show every so often.

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 the Lochs and the other was a full days trip to the Treshnish Isles, a designated site of special scientific interest.

On the White tailed Eagles trip we sailed into the territory of a pair of these magnificent birds.  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.  We had a Gull escort to the site as they dived for bits of bread that the crew threw out for them.  There was no noise as the engine was stopped and a lone dead fish was thrown out.  The first real sign the Eagle was coming the Gull’s behaviour changed and they disappeared knowing this beautiful, massive bird was coming our way.

The sheer size of these birds becomes apparent when they soar past you, with a ten foot wing span they were truly stunning to see so close. They soared past, then in a flash dived for the fish, the whole thing was over in seconds. The whole group loved the trip and seeing these birds so close was a wonderful experience for them all.  The birds are truly wild and this trip has been passed by all the governing bodies that work to protect this bird with their ongoing work.

To see this behaviour without the fish placed out for them could take days of waiting around etc, so deep down for me from a wildlife photographers point of view it was too staged to pass the photographs off as a truly wild moment captured with my time and fieldcraft, but never the less a great way to see these birds and I can highly recommend the trip.

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. Lunga is one of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s and it is teeming with other birds too like Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals.

The name Staffa is thought to come from an old Norse word meaning wooden building staves, which look similar to the islands basalt columns.  The name is a reminder of the region’s Viking history.  People have marvelled at Staffa’s columns for centuries.  As you approach the island from the sea, you can see these columns of rock and the very impressive cave known as Fingla’s Cave.

According to legend, Fingal was a Gaelic giant who fell out with a Ulster giant and in order to fight Fingal, the Ulster giant built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland.  When the causeway was destroyed only the two ends remained, one at Staffa and the other at the giants causeway in Antrim.  The columns you can see today are the remains of this causeway.

Fingla’s cave named after this giant is the most impressive site on this small island, as you enter the smell if excrement is very strong as nesting birds and bats litter the small ledge and over hangs as you slowly walk in using the path people have used for centuries.  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 mothernature.  A great place and one I would recommend a visit to.

One of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s, and teeming with other birds too, 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 thats 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.

As I was watching these birds and enjoying their interactions with each other this little fellow landed not far from me.  I was handholding the 70-200mm lens as he was close, he seemed to enjoy the company before flying off and back out to sea. The noises in the background are the other birds nesting along this cliff, Fulmars and Razorbills.

I wanted to portray the habitat the Puffins were nesting in, at the same time capturing one in flight with a wide angled lens to give you a sense of the world they live in. The images below shows the cliff and this coastal habitat on Lunga.

It is one of the best places in the UK to see Puffins that’s for sure, close up views, Puffins going about their lives all in close proximity of you as long as you stay still and make little or no movement.  Two great days and two very good day trips and the rest of the week flew by as we all concentrated on photographing Otters.

Each day we saw the Otters fishing far from shore among the different Lochs on Mull.  The shot the group wanted was a close up of this beautiful mammal and towards the end of the week and even on the last day those wishes were granted with a mixture of luck and being in the right place at the right time.  We were able to watch the same male Otter that had given us the slip most of the week, catch larger fish and come ashore not to far from where we were lying in wait.

He came ashore slightly higher up the beach at first, dispatching the fish he’d caught quickly then heading back out to sea to fish.  We thought that would be it as once Otters have had a good feed they tend to lie up somewhere for a sleep and this was late afternoon. But lady luck came again and he came back to shore with a larger  fish.  He ate the fish and that was the last we saw of him but a perfect end to a great week, underlining the sentence “you only get out what you put in” and the whole group did very well all week with the early starts and long days.

We were all sad to leave the island on the Friday but everyone had some great memories of this magical island sculpted by nature. A big thank you to all the group for your company during our time on Mull.  I hope I helped you all in seeing nature and learning more about her beauty while learning and showing you real and key camera skills that work on the ground.

I will be back on Mull in October during which time the Red Deer rut will be in full flow along with the amazing autumnal colours and snow capped mountains.  I have a few places left so to see the trip or book please click here. We stay in the same hotel over looking the bay of Tobermory, I always try to get clients the best place in which to stay as after a long day in the field comfort and good food is key.


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Norfolk in Monochrome

Filed in Photography Tips, Places Of Interest, Workshops on Feb.22, 2011

I have spent the weekend in the sleepy, tucked away county of Norfolk, one of my favourite places within the UK.  A bounty of diverse birds and wildlife which enrich this area throughout the year, making this a mecca for wildlife loving people.  I had clients with me during these two days on One To Ones covering the Spring Tides, Barn Owls and the many other species of wildlife that live along the North Norfolk coast, dominated by the Wash a large area of salt marsh which has one of the greatest concentrations of bird life within the UK, internationally important for many breeding birds and over-wintering wildfowl.

During the two days the weather became testing at times where the the sun stayed hidden behind a wall of cloud for the best part of the two days, just giving us enough light to capture some of the wildlife through photography.  With an almost colourless appearance to most of the images from both days I have chosen to present them in a black and white manner or Monochrome as the term is better known, where you have to look further and deeper into an image to see what is captured within its frame.

Devoid of colour the human eye is forced to look right into the image, spending more time in the absence of colour which can often let you know which species is displayed.  I have always loved black and white images, glimpses of a bygone era where you wonder in the absence of today’s technology how on earth they managed to capture such wonderful images.

Photography is the art of taking or making photographs, it is the creation of images by exposing film or a computer chip to light inside a camera.  The word photography comes from Greek words meaning to write or draw with light.  So by presenting these images in a black and white format from a well visited place I visit, it gives a different account of the images I capture during my many visits there during the year.  Simple composition and strong elements are key to all photography, more so with black and white, where some images you take and review on the back of the camera will lend themselves very well to this monochrome format.

Black and White Photographs are among one of my favourite styles, both to look at and to create.  Shooting for black & white is challenging, you immediately eliminate one of your building blocks of design;  Colour.  That’s one less tool that you have to compose with.  Personally I am drawn to the beauty that is created by black and white and always have been.  It makes the viewer focus on the strong compositions, textures and shapes as opposed to symbols, colours.  Contrast in photographic composition is an effective means of directing the viewer’s attention to the centre of the interest.  The positioning of the subjects elements to create contrast gives them added emphasis and directs the viewer’s attention all brought about in the absence of colour.

A photograph of wildlife on an overcast day can result in a dull photograph, but taking that same scene in black and white will help the viewer to see the contrasts and graphics of that image. Focusing on the emotions of the subject.

I have always said that there is always an image to be had from the moment I picked up a camera , if the main subject does not turn up then never put the camera down.  This is the advice I always give to clients.  Adopting this attitude and ‘can do’ approach will broaden your own ideas along with your creative style resulting in many interesting and different images from your encounters with nature, while at the same time learning new and exciting techniques within your  own photography, which can cross over into many different formats of this discipline.

Animal behaviour is something I love to capture within my work.  However simple you can learn so much from wildlife in general and more so the subject you are photographing.  This is another ‘learn’ I like to show all my clients and it can make the difference to your photographs on a massive scale.  During one of the days at Norfolk we were at one of the sites I know, where the incoming tides flood the gullies and inlets which provide great feeding for many different birds.  The Turnstones were busy turning stones, foraging for food, doing all the leg work for often little reward in terms of food.

Black-headed Gulls watched them, perfectly still, not really attracting any attention, then in the next breath bully their way in after the Turnstones had found a food item.  These couple of images show one Gull alone, watching a Turnstone feed, break open the mussel shell, for him to come in and steal the prize.  I chose to focus on the Gull with the second image clearly showing him watching this poor Turnstone work on this food source he’d found, clearly showing the Gulls intentions.

How wonderful nature is in every form and these simple behaviours are right under our noses alot of the time.  Always stay tuned in to where ever you are and never put the camera down.  This is the very best advice I can give.  My clients over the weekend hopefully went away with this and much more from the One To Ones– Spring Tides, Waders, Barn Owls days I run almost three times a month now throughout the year.

I show clients keys sights, go through their cameras and settings, I also cover fieldcraft, wind direction and the use of natural light, enabling all clients to go home with more tools in their ‘own box’, in turn helping to improve in all aspects of wildlife photography, at the same time showing behaviours in wildlife and the subject  in question, looking for impending action and movement, using whats around you to hide and conceal your presence and much more during these action packed days.

If there is anything I have touched on here that interests you or you want any further information on workshops etc then please send me an email here .  Thank you to Karl and Ingrid on Saturday and Jonathan on the Sunday for your company and I wish you all well in your photography.


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Spring Tides at Norfolk

Filed in Articles, Places Of Interest, Workshops on Jan.24, 2011

The first Spring Tides of 2011 graced the Norfolk coastline this weekend with its customary mix of dramatic weather conditions and amazing ariel displays as thousands of waders, mainly Knot twisting and turning as the incoming sea covers the land forcing them into the air. The effect this gives is amazing, one minute its a wall of dark and then the next a wall of white, twisting, turning like a massive fish out of the water. The Spring Tides only really happen around  3-4 times a month and in some months, like December, there weren’t any at all. When the sea comes in and covers the whole area forcing the birds closer to shore, they gather together for protection and by doing so form stunning shapes and patterns.

I was in Norfolk for the Spring Tides over two days, running One To Ones.  On the first day, Friday, the light in the morning was amazing, beautiful colours with small clouds giving the place that summers morning feel.  As the light came up thousands of birds were flying around, forming vast flocks, twisting and turning, all in perfect harmony with each other, creating a smooth fluid movement, which is breathtaking to watch.  Anyone who witnesses this does so in sheer amazement that something so beautiful happens on our own shorelines during the year. 

Once the sea has consumed all the land the birds fly around in an almost panic state before settling into the pools or pits as they are better known in front of the hides there. These offer them a safe place to roost in, rest and relax until the spring tide starts to retreat, exposing the vast areas of mudflats, where the sea has replenished the whole area with food brought in by the incoming tides.  Its then you get to see their numbers and sheer power, feeling the force as they take off from these pools, the noise is amazing and the sheer power of one of natures most amazing spectacles has to be seen to believed.

The light had faded a little, with the sun coming out one mintue then returning behind the clouds the next.  As we watched with great anticipation as the Knot slept, heads tucked into their wings, sleeping, waiting for the signal to return back to the vast mudflats where they can roost far out to sea. The photograph above shows this behaviour as thousands of Knot all sleep, huddled together forming these vast groups, occasionally the air was filled with them all calling, chattering to each other, moving, others flying in, swelling their numbers. Sometimes the wait is long then next it is short, but when it happens its amazing.  I had a sequence of one to ones with a few people during these days in Norfolk and the second group had never seen this event, which made it even more enjoyable.  So as we all waited, apertures ready, enough shutter speed to freeze this moment, fine tuning everything for that moment they take off, something I have witnessed many times over the years, where each time you see something different, then with no warning, no introduction, they go.

Birds start to take off as the others wait on the ground for their turn to join their group and return to the sea. Peeling off , perfectly timed formations take to the air back to where they belong, the power and force can be felt as you sit in the hides.  With the photograph above I wanted to convey this moment, how some birds wait for their turn while others have already taken off, following each other back to the safely of the sea, a truly amazing site within our wonderful wildlife in this country.

Then with only the last few birds to leave the land, the sky is full, thousands, upon thousands of birds take off, a shiver always goes down my spine upon seeing this, such is the power and beauty of this event.  After which a hot coffee is a must to warm you and reflect on what we  just saw. I then head around the coastline showing the clients the various places I visit, capturing images, going through techniques and helping everyone take better images, where at the same time seeing and learning what amazing wildlife we have around us and how they live their lives.

I also have a few Barn Owl sites I visit and work on.  During the day I show clients this area hoping that they turn up, as many people have never seen one of these amazing birds which are one of my favourite species. Then right on time, they arrive from know where, hunting the ground, they then disappear in a flash giving you a brief insight into how they hunt and go about their lives.

I have been running these great days now for sometime, where each month there are a few dates that this amazing event happens so if you wish to make an enquirey or book, then send me an email here and I will get back to you with dates,spaces etc.  These One To Ones can be run on an individual basis or as a group.  Big thank you to all the nice people I met this weekend, Roise, Martin, Stuart, Marjan.


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