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.