Category Archives: Mammals

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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Minsmere wildlife photography – part 2

After an encouraging first “day” at Minsmere ( I tend to be there at the crack of dawn and leaving when most are just arriving) I was looking forward to getting back to try my luck again and the next day the weather was a little more favourable in the evening. Once again the amount of rabbits on every available piece of grassy area really struck me and with a few of the wildlfowers in bloom, made quite an attractive image –

Rabbit Portrait, Minsmere

Rabbit Portrait, Minsmere

I headed back round to the East hide and was rewarded for my patience when a Spotted Redshank, a bird I’ve not photographed before, eventually made it’s way closer after feeding tantalisingly out of reach of a good shot. Even better it decided to sit not too far in front and preen for a few minutes and gave plenty of opportunity for reflection shots whilst doing so. It also had a quick bath.

Spotted Redshank preening, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank preening, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank bathing, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank bathing, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank reflection, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank reflection, Minsmere

As before there was certainly not a shortage of subjects as the scrape especially was a hive of activity. The Little Egrets were again fishing right in front of the hide but just down behind the reeds. Every so often one would come a little further out and allow for some great views. This seems to be my summer for them! I took an image here that was successful in the Bird Watching “Bird Photo of the year” and was runner up for the cover star part of the competition. So far there has only been a small image in the latest (October 2015) Bird Watching magazine. I’m really hoping they will make a bit more of the images that were shortlisted or commended and maybe have more images next month or in an extra pullout. I’d love to see some of the other entries. Anyway – here’s the one from me – I just loved the pose and the display.

Posing Little Egret, Minsmere

Posing Little Egret, Minsmere

Staying with the scrape, and as anyone with an interest in wildlife will know, nature can be harsh. It’s inevitable with so many young birds around that a predator will attempt to grab one, they have young to feed also, it’s just part of the circle of life. Whilst I can’t describe it as “pleasant”, you need to be rather matter of fact about it. As a photographer it of course offers an opportunity to grab some great (if slightly morbid) action shots. I witnessed a few smash and grabs during my week but the one closest that I managed to get the camera on was of a Lesser Black Backed Gull grabbing a Common Tern chick. The Gull was persued in vain by one of the parents and then by the other Gulls in an attempt to steal the prize –

The chase is on - a chick has been taken

The chase is on – a chick has been taken

In pursuit of the prize

In pursuit of the prize

Mid air tussle for a Tern chick

Mid air tussle for a Tern chick

 

There are so many different areas and habitats at Minsmere it’s hard to decided where to go next! I recommend the viewpoint for the Sand Martin nesting bank though. I struggled to get any worthwhile flight shots of these birds, not too easy with a 500mm so I always appreciate the effort when I see a decent shot, however just standing and watching the bustle of the birds as they came to nests to feed the chicks was wonderful.

Sand Martins at nest bank, Minsmere

Sand Martins at nest bank, Minsmere

Recently fledged Sand Martins, Minsmere

Recently fledged Sand Martins, Minsmere

The following day once again saw us up before the sun and quietly stalking across Whin Hill as the sun rose. I really wanted a chance at the Stoats – if you watched Springwatch this year, this area is where they were filming the parents with food, moving kits etc. I don’t know the normal layout for this area but for our week there was still a temporary path across the hill. With shortish grassland and plenty of wildflowers along with lots of rabbits and burrows it looked like a perfect day to catch some action. Things don’t always go as planned though and the first subject that I took some images of was a Muntjac Deer. This isn’t something I see down in Sussex at all so was quite pleased to get not only great views but some decent photos too. As the sun was rising behind us and the tiny amount of breeze was in my face, a small amount of stealth meant I could get frame filling shots.

Muntjac in morning sun, Minsmere

Muntjac in morning sun, Minsmere

Muntjac grooming, Minsmere

Muntjac grooming, Minsmere

Finally the Muntjac must have got an idea I was there and decided to head for the trees –

Muntjac running in morning sun, Minsmere

Muntjac running in morning sun, Minsmere

Finally for this post – just a quick example of how things don’t always go as planned. We walked down to the Island Mere Hide and found 2 people were already ahead of us in the hide. We stopped on the walkway, mainly because Maria wanted to see if she could see “Spineless Si” – those who watched Springwatch will understand as this was where he was filmed. There were a few noises from the reeds closeby, not suprising as there are coots and moorhens aplenty so we didn’t take much notice other than a cursory glance that way. Unless the noisemaker is at the egde it’s impossible to see anyway the reeds are so dense. All of a sudden there was a loud crash and a Bittern flew up just yards away, we were treated to the closest views of a bittern exploding from the reeds you can get, it made us both jump, and although instincts kicked in and I got the camera on it, these birds have a great habit of just showing you their rear end – which is all i got as a photo! So close yet so far….

The lady that was in the hide came out shortly after and said “you must have got some great photos!” to which I had to explain a bird’s backside doesn’t really count. They had known the bird was there but didn’t think to signal to us to move inside.Oops.

Bittern missed shot, Minsmere

Bittern missed shot, Minsmere

Bleh – next time! This place is great for Bittern opportunities and I did have several sightings through the week, just wished I’d know it was there!

More info about my week and where I stayed coming in the next update, hopefully not such a gap between posts this time. Thanks for looking.

 

 

 

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Minsmere wildlife photography…

After a week spent watching the amazing seabird spectacle of Bempton Cliffs, we then headed down the coast to Minsmere – another popular reserve that I had not been to previously. Time to rectify that.

Our accomodation was to be a lovely cottage that backed on to the reserve and had a populated Barn Owl box in the back garden. I had my hide with me and was hoping for those elusive close ups of a Barn Owl, preferably with a feed for the chick(s). After a pretty straight forward drive I couldn’t help but quickly unload the car and walk to the reserve (without my gear) just to get a feel for the layout. It was soon clear that although the reserve is technically within walking distance, it’s actually quite a way and when carrying 2 stone of kit it’s going to be too far to walk each day. No problem, one of the other things I like about RSPB reserves is that you can get in at any time even if the visitor centre was closed, and Minsmere is no exception.

The reserve is some size and has lots of different environments from reedbeds, woodland, scrapes, heathland and beach. I just knew this was going to be a successful week.

Heading back to the cottage and the light was already starting to drop, a quick look out of the bedroom window revealed the Barn Owl coming in with the first feed of the evening. Lovely views!

A quick scan of the weather showed that despite it being June, and alledgedly summer, the very next morning looked like the only good sunrise to be had for the forseeable future. Argh! Plans were made for a very early start.

At this time of the year the alarm has to be really early to catch that sunrise and so I was up and on my way for 4.30am and after the short drive was unsurprisingly the first person to arrive. I had decided that I would head for the East Hide so that the rising sun would be behind me and would bathe the scrape in lovely golden light. Once you start walking through the reserve the thing that really struck me is just how tame the rabbits are. Great place for kids as you are guaranteed to see wildlife of some kind.

My first encounter was to be after heading across the North Wall and going through the gate to the beach / dunes. As I had the sun rising behind me and there was barely a breath of wind, when I spotted a Red Deer hind feeding in the long grass on the bank, she had no idea I was there. I slowly levelled the camera and let her approach…

 

 

 

Red Deer hind feeding

Red Deer hind feeding

 

I’ve been told that the deer here can be quite accommodating but not having any experience in this area I was being careful – no sudden movements or noises. The shutter noise barely received a glance.

Red Deer hind chewing

Red Deer hind chewing

This hind really had no idea I was even there and was getting closer and closer. It’s a perfect start to have a willing subject like this so I made the most of it and took plenty of images. Eventually she was so close I could only fit her head into the frame and she finally realised that “something” was there ahead of her but still couldn’t work me out. Alot of sniffing and staring ensued –

Red Deer hind alert to possible danger

Red Deer hind alert to possible danger

Finally, after a fantastic experience, her waryness got the better of her and she skipped over the top of the sea wall, stopping for once glance back as she went.

Carrying on towards the East hide, there were swallows and Sand Martins flitting over the sand and the air was alive with birdsong. Mornings like this are a tonic for the hassles of everyday life, I could happily lose myself in this moment for hours an hours (and frequently do!). I spotted a recently fledged family of Cetti’s Warblers in the scrub just outside the hide but was not able to get a single image. Shame but lovely to see.

The East hide (like many on this site) are in two storeys. I chose to sit low down to get the best angle and was greeted by a scrape full of life. I would class my home patch as Rye Harbour in Sussex and, although there are now a healthy population of Avocets at breeding time, they do seem well spread out. Not so here at Minsmere, they had gathered into a large feeding flock and were in a sifting frenzy –

Flock of feeding avocets

Flock of feeding avocets

Avocets are a bird you just can’t help point a camera at. They are elegant yet feisty and full of character and always give something of interest to photograph.

Feeding Avocet

Feeding Avocet

Avocet in flight

Avocet in flight

Even just a side shot with that fantastic beak is worth photographing!

Avocet side portrait

Avocet side portrait

But where they really excel is protecting their young. They won’t tolerate ANYTHING near them and will vigorously defend against all comers regardless of size.

Avocet parent attacking a Little Egret

Avocet parent attacking a Little Egret

Trespassers will NOT be tolerated

Trespassers will NOT be tolerated

It’s an interesting situation that two birds that have struggled greatly in the past are now cramping each other’s style. Great to see them both thriving.

It’s always worth keeping an eye out for other activity too as birds are always coming and going and often it’s easy to miss opoortunities by not being prepared. This fly past from a Barnacle Goose was a good example. I watched it coming from some distance and grabbed some shots as it dropped down over the edge of the reedbed and descended onto the scrape at a distance. This isn’t a bird I often see on my home patches.

Barnacle Goose flying in

Barnacle Goose flying in

Redshank aren’t scare by any means but getting a flight shot is normally quite hard – this time of year (juneish) when they have young they will fly and alarm call so listen out for the advance warning.

Redshank in flight

Redshank in flight

Redshank alarm call

Redshank alarm call

For now I’ll leave you with a closeup of a Little Egret, a bird I’ll be returning to in the next update, along with Spotted Redshank, Bearded Tits, House and Sand Martins and a close but no cigar shot of a Bittern encounter. I’ll also let you know how the Barn Owl opportunities were.

Little Egret portrait

Little Egret portrait

Hope you liked. Thanks for looking.

 

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A Tale of two Foxes

Regular readers of my blog will know that my suburban garden is as much a wildlife refuge as I can make it. Deep hedges, areas of long grass and weeds for cover and insects (well that’s what I tell the wife anyway), 2 ponds and birdfeeds spread around. I also put out food for my crepuscular and noctural visitors in the form of peanuts and odd scraps. I make no apology for this, it gives the animals a small boost to start the night and allows me to watch and share in their adventures and, if lucky, a few photographs to remember those moments.

Despite the ridiculous press that urban / suburban foxes sometimes receive (I’m not saying incidents don’t happen but put it in perspective against dog attacks and the mess some of the owners leave) I have always found the local foxes to be very wary indeed. In fact my visiting badgers were much happier to ignore me and carry on than the foxes were.

Last year that somewhat changed when, on rising for an early photo session start, I saw a trio of bouncy fox cubs rolling around the garden at 4.30 am. My original blog is HERE. At the end of the article you can see the proud mum and maybe notice that white spot just visible on her front left leg. From those 3 cubs I know that one certainly didn’t survive. This year I’ve found that one of the females definitely survived.

The mum is still a regular visitor and I grabbed a snap back on the 21st March. Again see the white spot on her leg.

Female fox that visits me most nights

Female fox that visits me most nights

This vixen visits every night and it was clear to see she had young somewhere as her teats were clearly visible –

Fox side portrait showing teats

Fox side portrait showing teats

I guess I’m a sucker for a chance at more photos of cubs and made sure she had something to take them every evening. Soon she was joined by one of last year’s females and again, it was VERY obvious that there are young to feed very close by –

Young red Fox vixen showing teats

Young Red Fox vixen showing teats

It’s been a pleasure watching these two in the evenings. They don’t often show up at the same time and I’m wondering if they were raising the same family. I’m trying to find out if the daughter could possibly come into milk to support a litter that her mother gave birth to. They both visit, collect food (sometimes stopping to eat themselves) and head off in the same direction each time. I have an inkling where they may be denned but as these are all mature gardens it’s difficult to know for sure. One thing that is clear, my immediate neighbour who has no time or care at all for wildlife has completely stripped his garden of all cover and the majority of the mature trees. Where I’m guessing the cubs played last year is now a no go area with no cover at all. I guess some people just want a tidy but lifeless garden. Shame.

The two girls have been busy back and forth each eveing and I’ve been fortunate to be able to try and get photos that normally would be out of the question. They are not bothered by the cameras at all and are happy for me to be rolling around on my conservatory floor while I attempt to get portraits or shots of them eating, drinking, scratching and..well…anything of interest….

Red Fox yawning

Red Fox yawning

 

Red Fox portrait closeup

Red Fox portrait closeup

The young vixen (one year old) even comes and has a look to see where her food is. I often find her sitting on the back doorstep or curled up around 10 feet away. I should point out that i do NOT and WILL NOT hand feed even though she probably could be encouraged. I want to give her an extra chance but I don’t want her to get into trouble by approaching other humans, especially those that believe foxes are somehow a threat to them. When I touch the door handle she will back off to a sensible distance….

Red Fox vixen watching me through the door

Red Fox vixen watching me through the door

So despite seeing last year’s cubs on April 28th, as I write this I have yet to see hide nor hair of this years young. I have a sneaky suspicion they are still around as food is still being taken in the right direction but both vixens are not showing much in the way of milk so I’m guessing they are weaned (at around 6 weeks old). However, not all has been happy in the fox camp. Both vixens suddenly developed limps as did a dog fox that I occasionally see. Very weird. My suspicious mind was wondering if some of my less wildlife friendly neighbours has caused this but I honestly can’t tell. I’m now thinking that maybe they have had a falling out with the badgers as the older vixen disappeared for a week to 10 days and when she re-appeared she had clearly been in a serious fight. She has lost her good looks with a serious injury above her left eye which is affecting her jaw also. She is lucky to have not lost the eye. I’m not going to post any images of this as it looks quite distressing. The good news is that she is otherwise fit and healthy, still has vision in both eyes and is capable of feeding herself and her offspring.

At the same time, the younger vixen (who we refer to as “daughter”) is not recovering. She has a really sore front paw which, when I took some photographs of it, I can see is infected. I’ll be off to the vets this week to see If I can get anything for her as it’s now been weeks with this issue.

For now I’ll leave you with a couple of images of them at their best. Fingers crossed that the cubs will be coming to our little refuge sometime soon.

Red Fox vixen sniffing the spring evening air

Red Fox vixen sniffing the spring evening air

Something tasty this way comes

Something tasty this way comes

Portrait of the older vixen showing her good looks

Portrait of the older vixen showing her good looks

 

Hope you enjoyed the images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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