It is a common misconception that you have to travel hundreds of miles or get on a plane to find stunning wildlife. I find myself constantly to blame for this need to explore further afield. Not that there is any thing wrong with this - I love nothing more than exploring new stretches of coastline and discovering beautiful lochs and mountains to climb... but sometimes all it takes is a step outside your backdoor!
It all began with an idea - you have no doubt all seen that classic image of a Goldfinch feeding on Teasel. Even if you were not consciously aware of it, I am sure you've walked past a gallery or scrolled past a digital depiction of that colourful little garden bird sitting on the most unlikeliest of perches in either pixels or paint. I believe every photographer dreams of a shot they'd loved to have taken, I mean why question the classics? It was therefore a dream shot that began to unravel into a plan when I came across a branch of Teasel that had no doubt met the business end of Storm Doris that recently terrorised the South West. Apart from being dismembered from the roots, the branch was in one piece so I took it home to meet the local bird life.
Goldfinches have been a regular visitor where I live so I tied the Teasel branch to a piece of bamboo and placed it close to the niger feeder in the garden. Making sure the branch sat at the right height to have the fern hedge in the background, I placed my pop-up hide far enough away so as not to worry the finches and yet close enough to get a frame-filler.
A day passed of sitting in the hide for various stints and no Goldfinches left the safety of the feeder to take the spikey throne I had left for their enjoyment (although I had seen them do so in the times that I was indoors!) I kept waiting, watching the tit families flit around the trees and the odd greenfinch making a fleeting visit. But no luck with the goldies! After a while I did strike gold...but not with the gold I was after. A greater spotted woodpecker had flown down and taken a shine to a new fat ball hanging from one of the trees in the garden. It was a pleasure to see such an elusive and beautiful bird (see image above) and I was even lucky enough to film some interesting behaviour (see video below!).
I packed up the camera that day without the shot I was after but with fresh anticipation for the next day. The Goldfinches were indeed back out the next day which was a good sign so I settled back down in the hide and waited. I had noticed that the most likely time for a Goldfinch to visit the Teasel would be when the feeder was too busy with other birds. After an hour of waiting and seeing many pairs of finches visit the feeder but no more, I was eventually surprised by a single Goldfinch that flittered down the tree, went straight past the feeder and landed on the Teasel I had my lens trained on. The little character did this twice before I packed up from lack of light but feeling happy and positive that perseverance had paid off!
At the end of the following clip you can see the Greater Spotted Woodpecker pecking a small hole in the tree and then placing a sunflower seed into the gap. I thought at first that this was an attempt to cache the seed, however after inspecting the hole later on, I found the sunflower husk still there. I therefore suspect that this clever bird was using the hole it had created in the tree to hold the sunflower seed like a plate to enable it to crack open the husk and retrieve the sunflower heart. Wildlife never ceases to amaze me.
One of the greatest wildlife spectacles in Britain! Not a statement put lightly, the annual winter starling murmuration is not something you'll want to miss and where better to see it than at the UK's largest starling roost at Ham Wall on the Somerset Levels.
I have been to Ham Wall many times in different seasons and enjoyed sightings of Little and Great White Egrets, Grey Herons, Bittern, Marsh Harriers, Hobbies, Swifts and much more. But starlings have always evaded me (certainly in their famous large numbers anyway!). I therefore was somewhat apprehensive this visit. I had seen many shots coming from the RSPB reserve showing huge numbers so I was hopeful - I couldn't have been more surprised.
The silence and stillness draws you into a false sense of security and I found myself filming small cutaways and enjoying the beautiful clear sunset. Then before you know it, a small flock of starling flitter overhead. Then another. Next thing you know, the sky is blotted out with tiny black birds forming extraordinary shapes. The sheer mass of the scene is staggering but it's the sound that I think got me the most. Hearing the beating of millions of wings over your head and the mass twittering of those birds that had landed and covered every inch of the reeds is breathtaking.
Leave all your worries and woes behind, sit on the grass at sunset and take in one of the worlds greatest natural miracles.
I recently took a trip south to visit friends in beautiful coastal Cornwall and decided to take the opportunity to get some shots of some of the incredible coastal scenery that Cornwall is famous for.
Below you'll find a few still photographs as well as a short film that I filmed in Porthleven. I filmed these shots in a high frame rate in the knowledge that I wanted to slow down the waves for an atmospheric effect. I then decided to experiment with 'Speed Ramping' which is to play a piece of footage at normal speed right up until the moment you want it slowed down i.e. waves crashing against a rock. This is certainly something I need more practise at but it was fun to try out a new form of creative editing.
I have launched Episode One of what will be a continuing series called Nature In Focus.
For this series I am filming short 5 or 6 minute documentaries about wildlife: their lives, their stories and the issues they face. The debut short film is entitled 'The Great Urban Grebe. The Great Crested Grebe is shown in it's new urban environment to discover how a water bird recognised with reed beds and small lakes has adapted to man-made reservoirs and city canals.
I have been filming and photographing these birds for a couple of years as I studied at University in Cardiff, about 10 minutes walk away from the Grebes nest and feeding grounds. I had the privialge to watch these stunning creatures as they built a nest, kept careful attention over their eggs and eventually had a fluffy zebra-coated chick. As the chick grew older, it was shunned to follow it's own path as the parents prepared for the next breeding season. These little characters really stood out to me and I found it fascinating to be able to be in such close promiximity to such initmate behavioral activity. These really are the dinosaurs of the water and have taken advantage of an ever-growing man-made world.
Filmed and edited by Tom Campbell
Music by Ben Campbell and Tom Campbell
(feat. 'Frantic' by Metallica)
At the beginning of this week I took a road-trip up to Richmond Park in London with a fellow aspiring wildlife filmmaker to see the Red and Fallow Deer during the rutting season. There are 630 Red and Fallow Deer in the park so they are not hard to find, but with 2500 acres to roam free, they have plenty of space to graze. The deer have been able to roam freely here in what is the largest of the Royal Parks in London since 1529 and help to maintain the large public grassland through grazing.
We arrived just after sunrise having battled with school traffic just outside the park, but were able to start filming and photographing immediately in the beautiful golden morning light. I expected to find a lot of deer, but one thing I wasn't quite expecting to see... were parrots!
The Ring-Necked Parakeets have increased in numbers hugely in recent years and can be heard screeching across the park. You only have to look up to see a small company of green falcon-like birds gracing the sky with their raucous calls which are now one of the most common sounds heard across the park. I knew these colourful birds that were rumoured to have been 'accidentally' introduced to London in the 40's or 50's (some even speculate that Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair in the 60's!) were common in some parks in London, but having deer on the mind, I had forgotten the possibility of running into these birds; I was therefore somewhat surprised and excited and neglected the real reason why I had driven two hours to Richmond Park.
I eventually tore myself away from these beautiful birds and turned my attention to the roaring stags that seemed to be echoing across the park. People are instructed to stay 50m away from the deer - especially during rutting season when the males are so focused on driving away rivals, they might not worry about knocking down someone who got in their way. It was sad to see a lot of people ignoring this strong advice and I even witnessed someone walking within a couple of metres of one large stag to fetch their disobedient dog. I was very worried that the inquisitive dog might meet the business end of a male's antler before the end of the day. Luckily the dog-walker and dog walked away safely.
That said, the deer move around so often, you often find a group or an individual has closed the 50m gap very quickly, and I found myself at one point between two rival Red Stags even where I was on the path. Needless to say I got out of there quickly - it's not something you want to be in the middle of!
The rest of the day went well and the weather held up beautifully, allowing us to gain some incredible time with these large British mammals - fingers crossed for a repeat trip soon.
(Video footage to follow!)
Red Deer are the largest land-mammal in the UK and most commonly populate the Scottish Highlands. You therefore would not expect to find these majestic creatures just two miles from Bristol City Centre. Ashton Court sits on the city outskirts, made up of around 850 acres of woodland and is residence to a large herd of Red and Fallow Deer. Deer have historically been bred for venison stock and hunting, but there are now many estates that manage deer for ecotourism as an ornamental species.
Deer do not have any predators due to top food chain species such as wolves, bears and lynx having been hunted to extinction in the UK many decades ago. For this reason, deer species are over-populated and cause big problems by over-grazing, destroying habitats for other wildlife. Deer are therefore hunted to maintain a balanced population. Of course any time that a native species is hunted, controversy follows suit. It is certainly a very difficult issue to resolve.
There are however, plans in place to reintroduce the native lynx in to the UK and already trial introductions are being held in parts of Northumberland and Scotland. Lynx are the perfect species to be reintroduced as they not only control the numbers of deer, encouraging woodlands to regrow and allowing the ecosystem to recover, but they are also very shy animals. This medium sized felid is a solitary animal; a secretive creature that will hide away in dense forestry areas. Such an elusive mammal will cause no danger to humans and will prey on deer and foxes in deep forests rather than taking sheep which are kept in open meadows in the UK.