Sometimes the beauty of wildlife is the unexpected. This was the case the day that me and a friend decided to take some time off at the beach. With Weymouth being the closest coast to us at the time, we jumped in the car with the weather on our side in anticipation for fresh air, good views and of course ice cream!
I try and keep my camera in my boot at most times just in case but I wasn't expecting to be using it that day. Luckily due to crazy road systems we found ourselves in a car park right next to RSPB Lodmoor nature reserve. We took note and decided to have a wander around the reserve when we got back to the car after a beach stroll and lunch.
After blowing away the cobwebs with a walk and a hearty lunch, we kept our word and went for a stroll around the reserve. I hadn't heard of this particular reserve previously and due to the nature of this being such an impulsive visit I hadn't looked into any wildlife sightings. I was somewhat apprehensive and expected the usual beautiful but common gull and duck species. I am not one to chase uncommon birds but I do always enjoy seeing charismatic and unexpected species. I was therefore really surprised to find one bird I've only seen once before - the spoonbill.
Oh yeah... and not just one but three! (make your own joke about London buses...)
Anybody who knows me will tell you I have a slight obsession with the Scottish highlands. Lochs, mountains, pine forests, an abundance of wildlife - just a few of my favourite things. One of the best places to visit in the winter is the beautiful Cairngorm National Park. Mountains and forests for the walkers, stunning lochs for the landscapers and quarter of the UK’s rare and endangered wildlife species for the naturalists and conservationists. Of course as a wildlife photographer, it's the elusive wildlife that intrigues me most about this place - and it never disappoints.
Click images to enlarge.
Of course the favourite to see in the Cairngorms in the charismatic red squirrel. The smaller red cousin of the american grey squirrel used to be common across the country but due to the introduction of american grey that came to the UK with a deadly squirrel pox, the native reds have been constrained to small pockets mainly in the north of the country. The Cairngorms is still one of the only strongholds where the red squirrel is free to roam without any chance of coming into contact with the larger grey. That said, they are still elusive and take some looking and waiting for. The Rothiemurchus estate have set up a hide around an area of forest where they constantly feed the squirrels. For this reason, it's a pretty sure chance of seeing them here if you're prepared to wait for them. They are extremely entertaining to watch and are surprisingly tame. Respect their space and they'll reward you with a wildlife experience you won't forget.
For a long time now I have wanted to visit Regents Park in London to witness one of our cities biggest spectacles. Urban wildlife has always intrigued me and I have had a fair amount of experience watching Peregrines sweep over Bristol's skyline and in studying the lives of Great Crested Grebes hidden away in the man-made reservoirs and canals, merely five minutes from Cardiff City Centre. But Herons have always been a shy, lonesome bird to me that I have enjoyed watching roost over wetlands in the south west of England or silently fish on the Scottish coast. So to see half a dozen fight over food thrown to them by human hands, a stones throw away from our biggest and busiest city was a bizarre joy.
I really believe it is vitally important to hold on to these pockets of wild tranquillity within our urban areas. Escaping the busy city for five minutes of watching the grace of birds is therapeutic, calming and good for the soul.
It was also an incredible experience to witness so many younger generations being introduced to wildlife in such an accessible and exciting way - hopefully paving the way for wildlife lovers and conservationists of the future.
While visiting my brother in Newbury with the family, we took a walk through the famous Greenham Common during an unusually mild December afternoon. Greenham Common is of course known for being an old RAF base during the war as well as for the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp that was held outside its gates in the 1980s. Most recently the old airfield and it's bunkers were used in the recent Star Wars Episode Seven.
The paths were busy with cyclists and dog walkers as well as the odd sight seer (it was unclear whether they were interested in the history of WWII or star wars!) so after following a Red Kite that I was excited to see fly over, I soon found solitude among the gorse bushes listening for song birds and watching the Corvids chase the Red Kite. Solitude. It soon became a theme in my mind in this large open land where no one tread in fear of the spikey gorse bushes. I struggled with a pleasing landscape shot so soon switched to a slightly longer lens and began isolating solitary objects through use of depth of field or merely composing the subject into a sense of singularity.
It was an interesting exercise to restrict myself to a theme - even though the theme almost expanded from what I was naturally looking at and photographing at that point. I think it is sometimes good to fall back to basics and restrict some element whether it be in topic or just by using one particular lens in order to encourage creativity and think outside of that comfortable box we tend to cosy up in all too often.
That said... usual business will continue as usual in my next blog with a copious concoction of creatures and conservation.
It's been a hectic couple of months which have seen much neglect to my beloved camera gear. I'm working hard to turn this around and not let day-to-day troubles get in the way of what I want to do. I recently managed to get back some much needed solitude by visiting WWT Slimbridge. If you follow my work you'll probably have noticed I quite like it there! It is incredibly therapeutic to sit in a hide and study the characteristics of different bird species in order to think ahead and capture those characteristics in an image or on video. Plus there's nothing like being able to get close up to some of the most beautiful birds in the UK.
This friendly little feller is well known for being a courageous bird and will often get very close to humans, sometimes close enough to feed from your hand. When it comes to photographing wildlife, you'll often find yourself silently begging for them to come just a little closer - not a Robin! This over-confident garden resident was hopping around my feet in the hide and nearly took a fancy to my lens as a handy perch. This did however, give me the oportunity to switch to my new lens. A lens I was extremely excited about as I've only ever dreamt before of it's famous sharpness. The Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 II performed beautifully as I could have predicted, isolating the robin and blowing the background into a realm of soft nothingness. Shame to have a man-made object in the image but I still can't get over how pin-sharp that lens is! I'm looking forward to putting it to more use in the Cairngorm National Park in February where the Red Squirrels are tame enough to use 200mm effectively.
I am hoping to start uploading for video footage to my blogs from now onwards as I start building up my skills and portfolio in preparation for applying for a Masters Degree in Wildlife Filmmaking at UWE with the BBC in the new year. As the year takes a turn for the colder, the migratory birds are returning and the spectacle of watching thousands of Golden Plover and Lapwing take to the sky in a cloud of ornithological beauty is upon us once more.
I think it happens to all photographers at some point in time - as you go back through your photo filing system you will inevitably come across the odd image or series of images that never got to see the light of day. I thought I would share a few I came across that I never got a chance to share.
It's another year and for something like the sixth or seventh time running, I took the long pilgrimage back up to the Isle of Skye with my family. Every year I set myself small challenges to advance on from the previous year. This trip was no different, but the challenges had certainly changed. My perspective of how to present the wildlife and landscapes I come across is beginning to change. I am still a perfectionist and strive to create better images, but I am slowly finding that there are other ways to help delve into the stories behind the subject. This year I found myself filming alongside my still photographs a lot more. I will be cutting these moving images together and presenting them soon. My other objective was to look further and discover any conservation secrets to uncover through my lens. This is something I am constantly aware of, but something that is likely to be saved for when I am not on a family holiday. However, I did discover one such project which I hope to explore in the future.
One day we ventured off into Waterloo, near Broadford to explore a part of the coastline we had not seen before. Luck was on my side as I crept along the rocky shore to try to get close to a less-than-accommodating Grey Heron, when I caught a glimpse of something moving on the rocks closer to the edge of the water. A Common/Harbour Seal was basking on the rock by the water and had not yet spotted me only half a dozen metres away, hidden behind the very rock it had chosen to rest on. I took a few test shots and adjusted my settings, knowing I would only get a few attempts before slowly peeking above the rock and framing the charismatic seal in my viewfinder. Inevitably, after a few frames the seal slunk away into the water. I took my chance and ran to the waters edge to get down as low as possible, knowing that the seal would likely surface in the water not too far away. After a few seconds it surfaced a little further out and then dived: I waited. Suddenly it appeared merely a few metres from where I lay. I had always wanted to be this close to a seal; one of our smaller gentle giants of the sea. The next day I revisited the same spot just after the sun had come up and was treated to a beautifully calm sea and a group of seals basking out on a rock close to the shoreline.
Of course the huge benefit of visiting Skye is the unbelievable scenery: mountains, lochs and breath-taking skyscapes. I don't see myself as a landscape photographer, but I equally find it impossible not to attempt to capture the beautiful landscapes that following wildlife exposes you to. They certainly come hand-in-hand and inevitably a few landscape shots will always find their way onto my hard drive.
One day I had a fascinating walk around Trumpan and Stein on the North West coast of Skye. I met a young lass crofting the local fields, who told me about an incredible conservation project currently being carried out. The entire area of grassland and fields in the images below are all closed off to the public as special conservation areas. Around the coast the seals are free to bask in the sun in peace, seabirds are able to nest safely on the cliffs, waders are free to roam the coasts for food, and highland cattle graze on the meadows without interruption. But what I found most fascinating was that the fields are being left by crofters to grow for much longer than is usually done. This is in an attempt to bring back the elusive corncrake! - an incredible bird that is usually heard and not seen, but has wavered in numbers in many parts of the country. Working with the RSPB, the local crofters will not mow the fields till late August allowing the corncrakes to have their second broods. They will then mow from the centre of the field outwards to force the birds to the safety of the field edges. It was fantastic to gain a small insight into such an incredible piece of active conservation.
Of course as well as the incredible landscape, I had my fair share of my favourite bird sub-species: the wading bird. Broadford Bay is an absolute haven for flocks of Oystercatchers, Dunlin and Ringed Plover; with hundreds of migratory birds visiting to feed. It is always a pleasure to see what this stretch of bay has to offer and I always see something new - this year I found more Black Tailed and Bar Tailed Godwit, Turnstone and Sanderling.
And of course the seabirds showed well too...
Looking to the future...
I am going to keep maintaining my blog as much as work allows me and will endeavourer to upload more videos too as I explore new avenues of storytelling and giving nature a voice. Next year I hope to have a few more adventures planned including a trip to the Norfolk Coast, hopefully go searching for Eagles on the Isle of Mull and maybe even return to the Isle of Skye for the seventh or eighth time consecutively!
I recently spent the weekend in Wales with a friend to photograph Red Kites...but left with more than I expected. Wales is an incredible place to see the fast recovering Red Kite and plays a huge part in the reintroduction of a threatened species thanks to voluntary feeding stations like The Red Kite Feeding Centre in Llanddeusant. The feeding at this time of year is a 3pm so we decided to visit the waterfalls in Talybont for some landscape work in the morning first. However, lenses were quickly changed when we discovered one of my favourite river dwelling birds- the Dipper! What followed was two days of trawling through fast flowing streams in the mornings for Dippers and Grey Wagtails, and then sitting in a hide for a few hours in the afternoons for Red Kites and Buzzards as well as the unexpected Swallows and Wren nesting in the hide.