Over the last week I have had a great time with clients on Watervoles and Dipper one to ones and workshops in an area I have visited and known for a great deal of time, the Peak District, in the county of Derbyshire. Time severed knowledge and history of an area and the subject is key to successful wildlife photography, workshops and one to ones for me. That emotional attachment I have with these subjects helps in learning people about their lives and behaviours, which greatly benefit the clients images and also having a better understanding of a subject lets you read key actions or behaviours in a subject that you could later use in tracking or locating them.
This area of the country has such a diverse array of wildlife and habitats and some of the best walking routes in the country, its a wildlife heaven and one I don’t live that far from and always enjoy each visit whether it be with clients or alone watching the same species of wildlife. I’ve walked this area for many years, tracing the same paths for a long time. Finding your own subjects, getting to know them and their characters and behaviours is something that is really important within wildlife photography, where each image you take will have a meaning and be real in turn developing key fieldcraft skills and subject knowledge.
Watervoles are the largest British vole and are often mistaken for a brown rat. The watervole can easily be distinguished by their blunt, rounded nose and ears which are almost hidden in their fur. Watervoles are legally protected in Britain and their numbers continue to plummet, the main causes for their decline include destruction of bank side vegetation, pollution, and the introduction of the American Mink, an aggressive predator. Watervoles are my favourite mammal with their enduring character and cuteness, making them a lovely subject to photograph.
The Dippers, Red Grouse and Watervoles workshops are very personal to me and I share that passion and love for these subjects during these trips with clients, where their popularity never stops amazing me. And there can be no better feeling for a wildlife photographer when you show a client an area and the species shows up, that’s magic as they say in show business.
The Watervole population has taken a bit of a fall nationally and within some of the areas I visit in the Peak District numbers are down from previous years, experts all have their own reasons but I feel its a mixture of cold winters, water pollution and the dreaded Mink that’s the cause for the delcine in this most adorable subject. We got into place as the sun was coming up and the place was really quiet at first, then the sounds of the birds singing in the morning is enough for me, such a wonderful and real spring time feel when you hear all the different bird calls first thing in the morning.
Then without warning a tiny ball of brown fur turns up, moves quickly then pauses, motionless on the riverbank sniffing the air for clues to whats around. The Watervoles sense of smell and hearing is very good, their eye sight lets them down. While we watched one Watervole he went up the bank and started to sniff the air, remaining still at the same time to cut down on him giving away his position through movement, watching a wild animal can give you so much pleasure at the same time help you to understand and learn more about them which will help you in the future to local and photograph your chosen subject.
I filmed this Watervole to show how animals smell the air and smell your presence. Here this little fellow was sniffing the air, their key behaviour, not to sure what he has smelt or heard but wonderful to witness and a great example why wind direction is so important in getting close to animals. You can learn so much by simple encounters like this many people would just ignore or pass by as within mammals more so then birds smell and wind direction is so important to learn about otherwise the animal will have gone before you ever knew they were around.
On this amazing morning with the back drop of the beautiful dawn corus there was no wind so in turn the Watervole struggled to smell anything and local what it was he may have caught wind of. He later dropped into the water another classic sign to listen out for when you walk the riverbank,their trademark “plop”. The second short film below captured him having a good clean up and a scratch before heading up for his breakfast, really amazing and funny to watch, pure priceless humour.
Dipper’s forage for small prey in and around the fast-flowing streams and rivers of this area, walking down and beneath the water until partly or wholly submerged, this behaviour offers some brilliant opportunities to photograph and capture this unique moment and all over the years I have visited the several sites I know within the Peak District I never ever tyer of seeing these master’s of the river as I’ve always called them. Bobbing or dipping constantly on rocks, which I’ve always viewed as the bird ‘Curtseying’ for you. The Dippers I have been watching are feeding their first brood of chicks at the moment and they are doing well with a possible second brood on the cards as this is normally the case with Dippers as they are early nestor’s.
Its been a very busy week and thank you to my clients for your time and look forward to seeing you again. Knowledge is key and the best advice I can give for improved photographs of wild animals is to watch, look and listen to wildlife when you are in the countryside and this will learn you so so much, then all you have to do is press the shutter button and capture that moment you witness. Its an amazing time of year now to be among nature, with so much life and different behaviours to see that are only displayed at this time of year, with beautiful light and longer days its a magical season and one of my firm favourites within natures calender, good luck.