Over the last week I have revisited my Red Squirrel site in the North west coastal region of the UK. I managed to capture these most adorable mammals in better light, having got use to their behaviour a little which in turn makes for a better image. This whole area is managed by the wildlife trust who keep an eye on the population of Red Squirrels that were almost wiped out 3 years ago. Numbers are slowly increasing with the hard work and dedication of the local trust and volunteers. Every living animal for me has their own spirit, their own character and I really try to capture that within my work. Unplanned, unscripted in its truest form, watching wildlife and capturing those briefest of moments when you witness their unique behaviour. This is priceless.
The story with these guys is that they are really shy here among this pine forest habitat and not as bold as their grey counterparts, this though is the red’s undoing as the introduced greys are a more formidable forager of food and adapt to their environment far easier than the indigenous reds. Also the pox virus brought to these shores by the greys is wiping these little cute fellows out and experts warn that in as little as 20 years Red Squirrels could become extinct which would be a very sad day indeed.
A little supplementary food is put out by the trust but mostly these red’s forage for food on the forest floors, your first indication they are around is the sudden claw sounds as they chase each other around the tree trunks. Once on the ground though they are quick, real quick, darting all over the place and you have to follow and focus almost at the same time which was a little challenging to say the least as you just don’t know where they will turn up.
I love to just watch wildlife, build a picture of what’s happening as all living animals have routines and patterns they stick to, creatures of habit, the way they move, walk or feed and congregate with others etc. So by watching these squirrels’ patterns when ascending from the trees to the forest floor to feed I learned a great deal from them. I’d focus in one given area keeping down on my own movements and noise that may just spook these fellows enough for them to disappear which is never my intention when working in the field with any living creature.
Once I’d heard the rustle of leaves that littered the ground I stayed still and lay flat on the ground to get that important and intermit view point with them. No rain had fallen so they were dry and light which worked well for my hearing as you’d hear them coming, but bad for the squirrels as each movement from them was an open invitation to view them straight away as the rustle give their position away instantly. I became aware the squirrels knew this and after a few paces they seemed to momentarily pause, dead still, then move again.
At first I tried to follow them through my viewfinder but found that they were just too quick and expert at giving me the brush off. Then I changed tact, focused in on an area I kept seeing them come to, it seemed a cross way veering off to many different paths they had to various areas where they stashed their bounty for another day. I also saw them rubbing their bodies along the fallen log in this area which the trust had left to rot and give back its riches to the soil.
The problem was if I moved my lens or camera as they approached they’d go before I could say hello, so I listened, looked left and right once the first rustle was picked up by myself. A light and not as heavy noise meant they were some distance away, louder and firmly noises meant they were close as my eye was pinned to my view finder with no time to swing a long lens around. I put all my eggs in one basket as they say and I had several wonderful close experiences with these beautiful mammals that crossed over an area to my front where they were picking and feeding on fungi and other food bits in and around this old fallen tree that was slowly being claimed back by nature.
I pre focused in this area and when he came close, I slowly used the large manual focus ring on my lens, which gave away no noise, shooting in quiet mode in camera, this reduces the noise as much as possible each time the shutter is pressed. Slowly I began, 1 shot, 2 shot, pause, as I watched for an indication he’s disturbed by me, if so I stop, if he wasn’t disturbed I continue with the same slow pace. This approach works for me always remembering that these are wild animals with a healthy dislike for man. You have to work with them and in their environment and as a wildlife photographer I have a duty of care to the subject not to scare him into next week just for an image.
He routed around and fed on whatever he could find then went as quick as he’d come, it was wonderful to see these adorable animals so close and trusting towards me, where he let me into his life briefly and where I was able to capture his spirit and sole as a living creature with these images. I mention this such alot on my blog but at a time when wildlife is really under pressure you have to put the welfare of the subject first before any photograph is taken.
Due care and thought for the animals well being should be one of if not the most important consideration before you head out anywhere to photograph whichever subject you are taking. With camera equipment and the need to capture images of wildlife there comes a great responsibility with it, so please be mindful of this when trying to get an image of a wild animal and watch for signs of stress and disturbance. All wild animals have an inherent fear of man, place yourself in their circle of fear and you will be adding to that animals stress.
In this month’s Birdwatching magazine one of my wader images can been seen in their December edition. The image shows thousands of waders taking off while others waiting on the ground before joining them taken on a Spring tide in Norfolk. A bigger version can be seen on the 500px site by clicking on this link. It’s a wonderful place to display your images and somewhere I’d recommend having just joined.
The Spring tides for this year have now finished after this weekends brilliant showing, the next ones I have free are from February 2012 onwards so if you wish to know more information about these Spring tide days I run or to book one then just send me an email here The image above was taken on one of the last few Spring tides this weekend with clients, showing a Sanderling feeding with the tide coming in, replenishing the beach he was feeding on. Thank you to all those who have booked onto my Spring tide days and I look forward to the next ones in 2012.
And just a quick reminder Practical Photography magazine will be displaying a portfolio of my Spring tide images in their issue out on the 29th December 2011 so look out for that, many thanks.