Author Archives: Toby Houlton

Loch Fleet / Coul Links, stunning coastline…under threat

When we moved up here the very first place we visited was the Loch Fleet reserve. Located on the east coast of Sutherland in the Northern Highlands, it’s a stunning area of coastline where the tidal Loch Fleet meets the sea. The main tidal channel was clearly going to be somewhere I knew I would be spending some time as, within minutes of walking on the beach I was seeing Red Breasted Mergansers, Goldeneye and lots of Eider Ducks. There were inquisitive seals popping up in the water and checking us out and I even managed to spot an otter fishing in the channel. A short walk produced flocks of waders whirling across the water.

What a stunning place.

Loch Fleet

Loch Fleet

As a photographer, one thing I missed in the locations I visited in the South East of England was the ability to sit or lay quietly at the water’s edge to try and get good shots of coastal birds. Not a problem here, especially early morning in the winter. I am still refining my technique to see just how approachable (or not) various species are. Mostly the birds behave as expected – they see a human shape from several hundred yards and are already starting to head away from you. So I can’t explain why, when friends came to visit with a dog, when the dog was splashing around in the water after weed we were throwing, a pair of Eider seemed drawn to it and came really close…..bizarre!

Eiders are our heavist duck and can be found all year round. The male being a lovely black and white with an attractive green/yellow collar and beak. The female is brown and black but look closely and there is an intricate pattern to be found, both are lovely looking birds. To endear them even more they have a rather comical “ooooh” call which always gets a smile. They are also fairly social so it’s not unusual to see large groups or rafts of them as they feed together. They are diving ducks and will dive down to the sea bed to collect molluscs and crustaceans. Getting close to them while they are in the water is proving quite difficult, but by contrast, when they are flying they will happily fly really close to you as long as you are standing still.

Eider Duck (Male) - Loch Fleet

Eider Duck (Male) – Loch Fleet

Female Eider Duck in flight, Loch Fleet

Female Eider Duck in flight, Loch Fleet

I find these birds quite difficult to get really good flight shots of due to them often flying in pairs or groups so it’s harder to get all subjects in focus or to isolate a single bird such as this –

Male Eider Duck taking off, Loch Fleet

Male Eider Duck taking off, Loch Fleet

Occasionally they do line up well and fly in front the mountains in the distance which gives some lovely background colour –

Male Eiders in flight

Male Eiders in flight

I spent some time yesterday with the juveniles that were fishing close in, diving down looking for crabs. I had to lay prone on the stony beach, far from comfortable but they at least just treat me like a rock and ignore me. They stayed mostly distant but at a couple of points came almost too close to focus on. It’s a shame they didnt catch any crab at that point! Also a shame it wasn’t a lovely male, maybe next time.

Eider Portrait (juvenile)

Eider Portrait (juvenile)

Once they do catch a crab they seem to grasp it by a leg and shake it until the leg comes off, rinse and repeat. When the leg comes off they have to be careful not to lose it to a rival as they will happily try for an easy meal.

Here’s one that has undergone that treatment and is ready to eat –

Eider with crab

Eider with crab

Another fantastic bird that is abundant here is the Red Breasted Merganser. I’m finding them hard to get close to but they do fly past often. In this image the female leads with the male behind –

Red Breasted Mergansers in flight

Red Breasted Mergansers in flight

Red Breasted Merganser (male)

Red Breasted Merganser (male)

I’ll be spending some time trying to get images of them fishing, I know where to go, just need the right tides coinciding with reasonable weather and some time off work.

Winter is fast approaching and also brings a few migrants to the area. I’ve only spent one here so far and had a chance to photograph a couple of species I’ve not managed to get in front of the camera before. The first is the Goldeneye. Are you seeing the “diving duck theme” yet? I said the first two I mentioned were hard to get close to, the Goldeneye for me so far is by far the hardest. They appear to have a scare area of five hundred yards so once again the only way to be close is to hide somewhere and let them come to you. I’ve only once been lucky enough for a good look at these stunning subjects. I’ve not seen any yet this year but will most definitely be trying to get some shots of them diving and feeding.

Goldeneye (male)

Goldeneye (male)

The other winter visitor (last year), and moving away from ducks, was the pair of Shore Larks (also known as Horned Larks). Small and attractive looking birds that were feeding along the pebbles and low tide areas. They were really difficult to find initially (and thanks to the birders that pointed us in the right direction) and although known to be quite accommodating, were actually a little flighty. I went for the “i’m a seal” option and crawled on my belly to get close to their general area, then waited for them to come my way. This worked once but, just as they were reaching a good distance to get images (they are small so they do need to be quite close), another person decided the best way to approach them was to just try and walk right up. I know I can be a bit strange sometimes but after watching me crawl 50 yards on my stomach did they really think I was doing that for fun? Seriously wonder sometimes. Still – lovely birds (see below) and I hope they may return again this year.

Shore (Horned) Larks

Shore (Horned) Larks

The winter will also bring back flocks of waders, amazing to watch as the tide pushes them off their roost and they wheel in the sunlight –

Dunlin Flock

Dunlin Flock

As you walk along the shore here you’ll see the heads of inquistive seals popping up and checking you out. There is a haul out further inland on the sandbanks nearby and the laybys on the road afford decent views at low water. I have, so far, had one magical moment with a common seal. Whilst out at the mouth of the loch, I noticed a seal had hauled out on the beach behind me, the first time i’ve witnessed this here. I was hoping to get an image or two but with an approaching dog walker coming right towards it, and past me, I expected the seal to hurry back into the water. The dog owner was a regular here and said she hadn’t seen them do that in a long time. Sure enough the seal did head back into the water well before the dog came close. No drama there but I did expect that to be the end of the encounter, but no. A few minutes later there it was again. My wife and I backed up the beach and inched along the dunes at a respectable distance. I then did my much used “seal impression” and was on my knees then belly to slowly move a little closer.

The seal was very comfortable and decided to just have a lazy nap, with one eye half open, just 40 feet or so away. I was using my larger lens so was treated to a wonderful hour with this animal that must be amongst the masters of relaxing.

Common Seal doing the "banana"

Common Seal doing the “banana”

Sleepy Common Seal

Sleepy Common Seal

Dreaming of fish

Dreaming of fish

Common Seal Yawn, it's a hard life!

Common Seal Yawn, it’s a hard life!

This was one of those moments that will stay with me for a long time, such a priviledge. My seal impression must work then! I crawled in reverse back up the beach then slowly stood and left it to enjoy it’s nap.

I hope my images go a fraction of the way to showing you what a stunning place this is. Packed with wildlife, it’s a mix of pristine environments that deserves to be left for the wildlife. This is why I’m astounded that planning permission for a golf course (at Coul Links a short stroll down the beach and pretty much on top of this location) – has even gotten off the ground. Of all the places to choose, and believe me the whole area is quite beautiful, why would someone decide to try and build it on a triple protected (Ramsar Site, SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and International Special Protected Area) and have the audacity to say they would “improve it”.

I understand the need for local jobs,commerce and to bring money in but why choose here?

My understanding is that the Highland Council went ahead with approval despite being advised to reject it by their planners. The decision has now been “called in” for review by the Scottish Government. I seriously hope they send the right message here. To even be allowed to consider this site given the level of protection really makes me think that the deeper the pockets of the planner (a billionaire american no less. Remember Trump’s similar promises?), the shallower the law.

There are many organisations fighting this proposal including The RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Buglife

These bodies have a wealth of information about why they are opposed to the development which, if you wish to learn more, I urge you to have a look at, they can explain it much better than I in a few short words here. Apologies for ending on a sour note but there is still hope for this site. If we can’t fight when a triple protected site of environmental importance is under threat then when can we?

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in D500, Loch Fleet, Scotland Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

New location, new life.

I was sat right at the water’s edge of Loch Fleet, the smell of the sea, beautiful crystal clear water, flocks of Sanderling and Dunlin whirling around the mouth to the sea and the ever present call of Oystercatchers, when it really hit me. I live here now, this is my local area. As I’m thinking this in a slight state of disbelief, a Common Seal surfaces in front of me and i’m treated to a flypast by Red Breasted Mergansers and Goldeneyes.

Loch Fleet meets the sea

Loch Fleet meets the sea

I guess I should go back a bit and explain. My wife Maria and I have been talking about moving away from the south east of England for some time. For us, just too many people, too much traffic, not enough space, so I started looking at jobs in Scotland. The logisitics of what would be required were pretty daunting to be honest but we were determined to make a significant change. Then whilst at work I was given an idea. I didn’t know If it could possibly happen but at worst the answer would be no. Why couldn’t I keep my existing (IT based) job and work from home in another location. A plan was hatched and I started asking questions to see if it was possible. When I get the initial nod from my line manager I’m starting to think this could be possible. A few weeks later when I’m sat with my senior managers explaining the pros and cons and how my plan would work I was given the go ahead and I realised our lives are about to significantly change.

Fast forward a few months, we’ve sold our house and are yet to find anywhere in Scotland to live. We are living with family and all our possessions are in storage. We spent the summer up and down to Inverness and looking at properties in a wide area around the Cairngorms and all the way to the west coast. The main requirements being quiet and secluded with space and wildlife (especially for photography!), decent internet connection and within a couple of hours of an airport. I’m a creature of habit and this really did turn our lives upside down. Moving is stressful enough without actually wondering if you’ll ever find a property. One we did find one we ended up not being in a position to make an offer and lost it.

During this time family, friends and work colleagues were really supportive (for which I am really grateful). It was an emotional rollercoaster to say the least.

I remember people saying “things happen for a reason” and I feel now that we are settled in the Northern Highlands that really feels true for us. Whilst the house we lost felt like a disaster at the time, we really did find the right place in the end. Nestled in a very quiet secluded location on a single track road but only 3 miles or so from town (Tain) with everything we could want locally. A trip to Inverness (heading south!) is a 45 minute drive. Perfect.

So, as this is a wildlife blog, what’s it like? A quick explanation of the area. Single track road for a few miles with lots of “wet” woodland to either side. Down a small private road, our property borders a farm field (low scrub, heather and young pines) on one side, croft land on another with lots of mature pine trees. We have a couple of neighbours with large mature gardens similar to ours – mature pines, some low scrubby bushes and hedges. We have a large area of grass front and back and a large pond at the back which seems “natural” (unlined) as the ground in lower areas is quite boggy.

Over the fence

Over the fence

Well we were hoping for Red Squirrel (and were told they had been seen here) but this is looking unlikely despite being plenty of pine forest very close. I’m told there are Pine Marten around although I’ve not yet caught any on the camera trap. There are deer which are mainly seen on the croft / farm side of the fences, mainly Roe but I have seen a young Sika also.

If you are one of those that “follows” me you’ll be aware I do like to encourage as much as I can into the garden to be able to watch and photograph. I almost have a blank canvas so really putting some planning into what to plant to encourage the most wildlife.

So who are the stars so far? I’ll let the images talk –

Coal Tit

Coal Tit

Constant traffic from these little birds, almost fearless, will come right up to you.

Perching Coal Tit

Perching Coal Tit

The mouse like Treecreeper is always present. This really is a bonus, thinking of some interesting ways to photograph them in the future. This one found a juicy morsel underneath the pine bark despite the freezing conditions.

Treecreeper with spider

Treecreeper with spider

Another bird that is here in high numbers are the Chaffinch, large flocks visit the feeders are and ever present flitting through the branches. A large flock of around 40 birds present during the snow, feeding on what i had put out to help all through the harsh weather.

Male Chaffinch in snow

Male Chaffinch in snow

One of my (if not one of the nation’s) favourites that visit a few times a day in a small flock is the Long tailed Tit. Such beautiful little birds. Stand still when you hear them and you may be rewarded with extremely close views.

Long Tailed Tit

Long Tailed Tit

There are of course all the usual garden culprits, lots of Blackbirds, Robins, A few House Sparrows, Starlings and Dunnocks, along with Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great and Blue Tits, Hooded Crow (probably my only real Scottish visitor so far  – and no images yet), the inevitable Wood Pigs (my new name for Wood Pigeons).

I’ll keep the images to a few of the more interesting ones –

It took a larger niger seed feeder to encourage the Siskins down and I am pleased to say they are here everyday at the moment. Feisty little birds with an ego much bigger than they are…

Siskin male

Siskin male

Here’s a bird I never thought I’d be photographing in my garden..

Grey Heron in snow

Grey Heron in snow

The wintry weather also brought in a few very welcome visitors. I took a half day off to see If I could get any images of the redwings that I had seen the previous day although it had been a fleeting visit. Really pleased I did, I was treated to a very memorable session with the birds sometimes almost too close to focus on. They were there for the apples I put out through the winter.

To get images like these I lay flat on the snow, cover my body with a bag hide, wear a balaclava and make sure I make no sudden movements. Not always needed of course but what better way to photograph your subject when it doesn’t even know you are there?

Redwing in snow

Redwing in snow

I was honoured to have this chosen as image of the week on Birdguides website.

Redwing with apple in snow

Redwing with apple in snow

Another bird I hear regulary (but have not yet seen) is the Tawny Owl. Every evening we are treated to a chorus of calls from the nearby woodlands. Looking forward to seeing If I can encourage them to the garden. I have a great spot for an Owl box so will put one up to hopefully attract a nesting pair next year.

It’s now April and I’m reliably informed that spring is late this year. Other than the skeins of geese that regularly flew over, the only migrating bird i’ve spotted from the garden was a fantastic Osprey. Not a bad sight when you are sat at your desk working! I’m really looking forward to seeing which migrants will be joining the regular garden birds. I’m hoping for Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart but only time will tell.

Apart from the migrants I am seeing lots of nesting activity. There are Blue Tits in box the boxes I made and put up (i’m not that “handy” so was fairly pleased with how they turned out), Coal Tits nesting in the wall of the house (there was a decent hole where a pipe previously was which I meant to investigate and fill up – oh well that can wait until the end of the season now) along with House Sparrows and Starlings under the tiles near the chimney.

Blue Tit using home made nest box

Blue Tit using home made nest box

The birds are also loving the wool I’ve put out to help them –

Coal Tit collecting wool

Coal Tit collecting wool

We are starting to feel like we are settling in and it really does take some getting used to. 5 months in and we are still getting moments of “I can’t believe I live here!” We have so many places to explore (Cairngorms, loads of coastline, lots of uplands, woodlands, Channonry Point for dolphins) I can only guess at what I might be lucky enough to see. I’ll be sure to update you when i’ve visited some of these places and have some images to share. I’ve also not yet met many photographers but guessing as the summer season starts I might see a few more lenses out and about.

I started by mentioning Loch Fleet and I guess that’s a good place to end as well. This is fast becoming my new “local” spot and I’ll be concentrating on this area in my next blog update.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, D500, Garden, Photography, Scotland, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Springing into 2017

Half way through April and spring is well and truly underway. I guess the best way to start this post is with the most obvious sign of spring from the garden and one that many people probably take for granted – a frog chorus. Now frogs are hardly rare but you would be forgiven for thinking that in my garden. Despite having two reasonably sized wildlife ponds, it has been the newts that rule the water (newts eat frogspawn and vice versa)….maybe that’s all about to change?

After finding quite a few adult frogs at night and hearing them sing from our bedroom window, I knew that maybe this year would be a little different. My hopes were realised when one morning on my way to feed the birds I saw the first frog spawn of the year, and the first time in abundance for my pond(s).

Frogspawn clump

Frogspawn clump

Over the next couple of weeks there was a steady addition of spawn, the result being a large semi-floating mass with what must number into the thousands of eggs.

I’ve not had many chances to photograph Common Frogs so firstly out came the macro lens and my waterproof mat and I spent a session or two laid out at the side of the pond –

Common Frog close up

Common Frog close up

Common Frog Reflection

Common Frog Reflection

Despite some reasonable success they were still quite shy. What about trying to photograph them at night I wondered? A couple of remotely triggered flash units placed at 45 degress from each side and I was ready to go. This time the frogs were amazingly approachable with a little care and sat nicely for their portraits –

Smiley frog portrait

Smiley frog portrait

Floating in the dark

Floating in the dark

Common Frog reflected at night

Common Frog reflected at night

Whenever walking the garden at night around this time of year I have to be really careful of the travelling newts as they move around on damp nights –

Newt crossing lawn at night

Newt crossing lawn at night

It’s now a few weeks since the spawn was laid and my pond (the bulk was laid into a single pond) is now a writhing mass of life – everywhere you look there is a tadpole darting about, I could watch it for hours!

When the spawn first hatches the tadpoles tend to stay together and eat the rest of the jelly from the eggs, I tried to get a few images of this but any image taken into water is really difficult. Hopefully these convey what I was seeing –

Mass of tadpoles

Mass of tadpoles

Finally for the frog theme, i’m trying out a little aquarium photography. Although it’s a reasonable start, I’ll need to work out how to clear the water as the following image shows (oh and notice the hoglice in the bottom right photobombing!)

Tadpole underwater shot

Tadpole underwater shot

Bird wise the garden has been quite busy with the smaller birds being most active it seems. This Goldcrest was a welcome visitor and has been seen around regularly and not alone. Hopefully they will be nesting nearby –

Goldcrest side portrait

Goldcrest side portrait

Another lovely little bird that is definitely nesting nearby is the Long Tailed Tit. They have been picking up tiny bits from my fat feeders before zipping around finding spiders webs with which to construct their nest –

Long Tailed Tit gathering nesting material

Long Tailed Tit gathering nesting material

Long Tailed Tit with moss

Long Tailed Tit with moss

Not the best images but something I don’t often see so worth inclusion here.

They even have enough energy to manage a few chin-ups…

Long Tailed Tit chin up

Long Tailed Tit chin up

Moving away from the garden, I was treated to my first singing Sedge Warbler at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve at the beginning of April. This is a welcome sound as it heralds the reedbeds coming alive with warblers for the next few months. A small amount of time stood still and the bird was happily belting out his song close enough for some lovely portraits.

Sedge Warbler portrait

Sedge Warbler portrait

Singing Sedge Warbler

Singing Sedge Warbler

Finally, I’ve been giving access to private farmland, something I’ve been longing for to get some new space where it’s less likely i’ll be disturbed. It’s noticeable that all the wildlife I’ve spotted so far is really shy so it’ll be fun trying to get some good images.

One bird there is no shortage of is the Pheasant – this shot was early morning, low light and high ISO so fairly pleased with how it came out –

Pheasant in flight

Pheasant in flight

I also managed to find a pair of Treecreepers making a nest in some rotted wood. I’ll be keeping an eye on them over the coming weeks. I’d love to see the youngsters fledge into a huddle! –

Treecreeper with nesting material

Treecreeper with nesting material

That’s it for this instalment. Hope you enjoyed the images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Garden, Photography, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Looking back on 2016….

Firstly, a happy new year to my followers.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of my photography highlights of the year….

Despite feeling like I’ve managed to get out nowhere near as much as I’ve wanted to this year (I wonder if all wildlife photographers feel this way?) I’ve still had a really good year and managed to meet some of my personal goals.

I thought I’d share a few of my favourite moments and images with you all.

January was successful for my Barn Owl images. A bird I never tire of trying to photograph and have spent so many hours looking at an empty field of tufty grass but, when it does all come to fruition, it’s worth every moment –

Barn Owl diving after prey

Barn Owl diving after prey

Barn Owl incoming!

Barn Owl incoming!

Whenever I attempt to photograph these lovely birds I always hope that one will perch close enough to get a decent “classic” shot. They certainly won’t do this if you are visible so I’m inevitably hidden from view under a bag hide and behind my tripod. I can’t tell you how fast my heart was beating when this owl flew right towards me then veered off and, from the corner of my eye, I saw it land on a post around 30 feet away. As it was now around 90 degrees from where the lens was pointed I had to move so agonisingly slowly to bring the lens round whilst daring not to breathe. Luckily I drew no attention and was able to get the type of image I had hoped for in the dusk of the dying day.

Barn Owl on perch

Barn Owl on perch

Barn Owl in perfect pose

Barn Owl in perfect pose

February saw a personal goal realised when one of my images was chosen to grace the front cover of Bird Watching magazine for their 30th anniversary edition. This was one of my favorite images of the previous year and was taken at Minsmere in Suffolk and was my first (and only so far!) front cover on a national magazine.

my first front cover on a national magazine

Those who follow my blog will know that I enjoy submitting images to competitions and this year managed to have an image included in the inaugural Bird Photographer of the year competition with my image of a feisty goldfinch in the garden birds category. Very humbling to be included in a book with some of the best photographers on the planet! What I like even more is that this shot was taken from my back door!

Included in Bird Photographer of the year book

Included in Bird Photographer of the year book

Whilst I am on the subject of competitions, I did enter a couple of others in 2016. I tried some of my badger reflection images in Wildlife Photographer of the year (the major global competition) and had two images shortlisted but didn’t make the final cut. Still really pleased considering this competition receives over 40,000 entries! I haven’t entered in this years but have my eye and brain on some images for next year.

Early spring saw the visit from our neighbourhood foxes and badgers increasing and each evening I am treated to very close experiences with them now that I’m part of the clan. Sometimes it was just too much effort to pose!

Tired Fox Cub

Tired Fox Cub

May finally saw the release of the Nikon D500, a camera that so many wildlife shooters have been waiting for, literally for years. 10 frames per second and an almost unlimited buffer when seriously shooting RAW, along with a flip up/down screen (no more framing images with my face on the floor!) and 4k video made this a foregone conclusion for me.

May also gave me a small surprise in the shape of a Black Adder. My wife, Maria, spotted it whilst walking in woodlands near Eastbourne –

Black Adder

Black Adder

June was my first visit to the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Breathtaking scenery, peaceful and wildlife everywhere (see my previous posts for images including Pine Marten). I really am smitten with Scotland. I can put up with the midges (he says bravely) and the renowned harsh weather and would love to live in this part of  the world. Also part of the same trip, we dropped down to Northumberland to visit the Farne Isles for the first time.

If you haven’t been to the Farnes then you really are missing a treat. It’s an assault on all senses and as a photographer you will be spoilt for choice and opportunities regardless of kit and ability. You can literally sit down a few feet from a Puffin if you so wish (remaining on the boardwalks of course).  Everywhere you look there are birds wheeling in the air, whizzing past with nesting material or fish in their beaks or engaged in all kinds of interesting behaviour. Just make sure you wear old clothes and a hat if landing on Inner Farne as the Terns are feisty in their defence of your perceived threat to their nests. As with any wildlife, a little thought about where you do or don’t stand makes all the difference, keep your eyes open and have some respect for their space. They will reward you with more natural images! One thing is for sure, I totally overdid the puffins in flight shots. Hard not to 😉

Puffin in flight with sandeels - Farne Isles

Puffin in flight with sandeels – Farne Isles

Also great chances to photograph lots of other different seabirds…

Shag courtship - Farne Isles

Shag courtship – Farne Isles

Razorbill with sandeels - Farne Isles

Razorbill with sandeels – Farne Isles

Razorbill resting - Farne Isles

Razorbill resting – Farne Isles

Arctic tern portrait - Farne Isles

Arctic tern portrait – Farne Isles

July saw fox activity in the garden at a peak. With at least 3 youngsters our visiting mum had quite a job keeping them in check and they were always full of mischief. By this time they have learned that if mum won’t give you any food, sit back a little way, watch her bury it, then go grab it when she moves away! Get caught and get told off…

Scolding for young fox

Scolding for young fox

I always try to fit in some macro work during the summer when there are plenty of subjects, even better if you can get a hot day with the temperature dropping overnight to add a little dew on the resting insects. These normally mean a very early start to get plenty of time before they are warmed by the sun.

Little Skipper and dew

Little Skipper butterfly and dew

Skipper covered in morning dew

Skipper covered in morning dew

I also tried to spend as much time as possible with the badger clan that visit the garden. Sitting on the lawn feeding badgers just a few feet away has to be one of the most relaxing ways (for me) to spend an evening. I have some ideas on how to improve upon my images that were shortlisted for both the British Wildlife photography Awards (BWPA) and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY) – they both came close but didn’t get chosen at the final stage. An improvement to my lighting technique will help I think. Here’s what it looks like from ground level with a bundle of badgers in front of you –

Young badgers feeding in garden

Young badgers feeding in garden

Badger Cub close up

Badger Cub close up

What I’ve really been hoping to improve upon is my reflection shots. Although the images I took this year were quite pleasing, they just don’t quite cut it for the serious competitions. Next year!

Badger reflection

Badger reflection

Talking of Badgers and BWPA (British Wildlife Photography Awards), I had pretty much given up on achieving another of my goals this year. Even though I had 6 images shortlisted in the competition (5 of my badger images and a macro Damselfly image), September rolled round and I hadn’t heard that any had been successful. I had resigned myself to another “not quite” year when out of the blue I had a strange E-mail telling me that as I was included in the BWPA book this year (YAY!) I could collect my free copy “at the BWPA book table in the gallery on Monday 5th September”.  This E-Mail arrived on the 4th Sep at 17.13 and I quickly realised perhaps I had been invited to the award ceremony but hadn’t been told! Thankfully my understanding boss allowed me to take the afternoon of the 5th off and I nipped up to London to the Mall Galleries where the ceremony was that evening.

Seeing all the final images professionally printed and mounted was excellent, it really made them look their best. I made my way round the room trying to find my badger image(s) and was really confused when I couldn’t find any. Had they made a mistake and actually I wasn’t mean to be there after all? Another time round and still couldn’t find any so took my time on the 3rd attempt to look properly and there, amongst the hidden britain display was my shortlisted Damselfly image. So pleased at finally making it into the book but admittedly a slight pang of disappointment that it wasn’t one of my badger images. I clearly have too much emotional attachment to them! Anyway, here is the image that was chosen and which also popped in as a full page in the Nikon magazine NPhoto –

BWPA shortlisted image "Peeking over"

BWPA shortlisted image “Peeking over”

Autumn and winter have been particularly mild this year. I really enjoy really cold snaps as the addition of frost and snow add another dimension to any images but they have been in short supply. Although it doesn’t help the wildlife, I always make sure I have plenty of food available in the garden. This year I had collected lots of acorns that had dropped in areas unlikely to be collected by any animals or birds and popped them on my garden menu. The local Jays were soon visiting regularly and snaffling the offerings. They are extremely timid birds that visit me and I have to remain totally hidden to have a chance at shots like these –

Jay with peanuts

Jay with peanuts

Jay swallowing acorn

Jay swallowing acorn

Finally, around christmas I always try to get out for a final trip of the year. No chance of snow but a lovely (but very cold) day with virtually no wind made it perfect conditions to try and pay a final visit to the Bearded Tits at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. They are so much easier to find in calm conditions but there is never a guarantee. I was actually walking back on my way home when I finally connected with these stunning little birds –

Male Bearded Tit on reed head

Male Bearded Tit on reed head

Bearded Tit feeding

Bearded Tit feeding

Female Bearded Tit in flight

Bearded Tit feeding on seeds

Bearded Tit feeding on seeds

Totally worth getting up and out into the freezing dark before the sun has risen to share some time with this family of six as they fed across the reserve.

So what does 2017 bring? The only plan so far is my first public talk about my photography which will be held at Winchelsea Community Centre on March 18th and is organised by the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Really looking forward to the new experiences the year will bring and hopefully will have some to share with you through the year.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

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