Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Top 5 wildlife encounters of 2012...

This year has probably been the best year in terms of my wildlife photography/filming and encounters. I hadn't made any big plans to delve deeper to find bigger, better species but they just seemed to arise due to my improved knowledge of the areas around me... I'm going to start with number 5 and then make my way down to my overall top wildlife encounter of the year:

5 - Dolphins off of Cornwall...

In October of this year I went on a family holiday to St Ives in Cornwall. I bought my camera and telephoto
lens in case I saw something worth photographing but I didn't have high hopes.

On the first day I went down into the harbour just to have a look around, see the bird life and maybe take a few shots of the wading birds on the beach. I was looking out to sea when I discovered that there was disturbance in the water as if someone had just jumped in, so I had a look through my camera which was on a tripod at the time. I couldn't see anything but still waited just to check when suddenly 2 dolphins leaped out of the water around 2 metres high... I couldn't believe my eyes but my wildlife photography instinct took over and caused me to press on the shutter. I took my eye away from the viewfinder and could begin to see that it was a pod of around 10. This is the first time I had ever seen dolphins in UK waters and is a moment I would never forget.

I checked camera to see the photo which I had just took and saw that I had managed to photograph one as it was jumping over another dolphin - although it wasn't the best picture I was definatley pleased with it -

I was then sat watching them for around half an hour and hadn't realised that behind me were around 50 other people watching the same thing.

4 - Great Tit family film...

In early spring of this year I was walking through my local woodland in search of signs of mammals. I standing near to a tree on a hill with my binoculars when I began to hear very faint squeaks coming from behind me, the kind a mouse would make. I turned around but nothing was there so I just assumed I was hearing things. I then heard it again so looked around once more but nothing was around I though the tree can't be making that noise surely, so I went over to the tree and put my ear up against it and could hear it louder and then noticed at knee level there was a hole.

I looked up the hole and discovered a nest of 8 little chicks all screaming for food. the light was shining in so I could make out all of them without needing to use a torch which could have harmed them. I backed away from the nest to see if the parents would arrive to feed them so that I could see what species it was... After around 2 minutes two Great Tits had arrived and each had its beak full of caterpillars. They flew into the nest and then within a matter of seconds were back out and didn't seem to be phased my me at all.

I spent much of my time in Spring filming the family and monitoring the health of the chicks. Unfortunately 3 of the 8 died along the time in the nest but 5 fledged, Great Tits fledge after around 16-22 days. I didn't see the chicks fledge unfortunately but I managed to track down 3 of the 5 within the next week and they seemed healthy and were eating well.

To spend so long with this family was a great experience and particularly to be accepted by the adults was amazing - one was perched on the end of my boot at one point.

3 - Kingfishers...

Before this year I had never seen a Kingfisher and was hugely shocked to see one on a river just 5 minutes away from my house.

I went to this river in search of birds and small mammals and was surveying the quality of the river - depth, turbidity  fish life etc... There were indeed plenty of fish including Bullheads, minnows (Kingfisher lunch) and one black fish, around 20cm long, which I couldn't identify. The river was also clear but in times of heavy rainfall become heavily sedimented and would flood which wasn't so good. I decided to sit in my hide and see what arrived...

Firstly a Yellow wagtail came which is a great bird, then two Grey herons, Moorhens, Mallards and couple of swans but then I suddenly saw a flash of blue. My first thought was a Kingfisher but then knowing my luck I though it couldn't be but then there perched on the other side of the river was a beautiful male Kingfisher. It was the most amazing bird I have ever seen and I was in complete shock.

I began going to the site every day for the next couple of weeks trying to film it but it wasn't easy and the river kept flooding due to a weeks heavy rainfall.

I managed to get some film of it though which was amazing and it was great to have this experience so close to home.

2 - Short Eared Owls...

Like the Kingfisher, before this year I had never seen any Owl before in my life. So when I got a tip off of a local site which was known for Short Eared Owls I was very excited. I went down to the site and was surrounded by about 10 other photographers all with big 600mm lenses with their Canon 5D's and what not and then there was me on the end with my 60D and 150-500... 

After about an hour of waiting I saw emerging from the distance a very large bird flying over the grassland in a zig zag pattern, to cover as much land as possible. As it got close I noticed that it was a SEO and it flew within around 10 metres of me and filled the frame of my camera. It was amazing to see and be so close to this giant bird. I managed to get a few shots at the time and came back many times and saw it each day at around 4.30pm and always got some nice photos. 

When leaving one day I was going past a sheep field, which was just behind the grassland where the SEO was. I noticed perched on a fence post was a Barn Owl eating what seemed to be a vole. It was too dark for photos but I was watching it for a good 20 minutes through my binoculars  So I had now seen two owls in the space of a week, amazing.

1 - Diving with Grey Seals...

In June I went to Lundy Island with my dive club. Lundy is famous for its healthy population of Grey Seals so we were expecting a good day out. I'd seen Grey seals before on land but they are completely different animals when under water. 

We suited up and jumped into the water and were finning at a depth of around 6 metres in the kelp. Within about 20 minutes a seal emerged through the kelp and swam over to us. It was amazing, I was within touching distance of it and the visibility was brilliant so I was able to observe the elegance of this seal. 
The seals were so playful and inquisitive. One was trying to bite off my fins which I wasn't happy about but it allowed my to stroke it along the back, which was an unforgettable experience. 

The seals seemed to be more interested in my brother who was diving with me, they like smelly things. They were going right up to his face and were swimming all around him. Luckily I had bought my underwater camera which allowed me to take some shots (I'm not that good of an underwater photographer by the way). 
Here's a Grey seal spreading the love with a little kiss

This was an amazing experience and has given me a lot more respect for these animals. I will never forget it.

I hope that next year brings just as much excitement as 2012 has... Merry Christmas everyone...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Grey Squirrels Part III

Sorry, it's another Grey Squirrel blog. You're probably all getting bored of these now but its kind of a little project at the moment for me. I promise to do a different animal on my next blog...

So this week I decided to take a different approach with the photographs and went for macro shots, getting up close and personal with the tame beasts... This required the squirrels to be willing to hang around me at close quarters which is where the magic of peanuts came in. I basically surrounded myself in peanuts, they were all over the grass, all over me and some in my lens hood to attract the squirrels just that little bit closer. 

I hope you like them, they aren't as good as last weeks, in my opinion, but I do like them!!

I also tried to take an extreme close up of one squirrels foot, don't ask why but I did it anyway, don't ask how either...

For these photos I used my Canon 100mm L macro lens which worked really well and didn't let down...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Grey Squirrels Part II

Hello again... So last week I went to photograph grey squirrels at a local park and found it really enjoyable and I think I got a few alright shots out of it but I knew that there was still room for improvement, as always. So today I went back with shots in mind.

I decided that the main photos I wanted were ones with shallow depth of fields with orange leaves in the foreground and background.

I started by making a trail of dead leaves along the floor coated in peanuts to attract the squirrels. I piled up leaves at the back to act as the background and here are some of the results...

I then decided to take some portrait photos because I am just that crazy...

I hope you like the photos, I think they've improved since last week... Tell me what yo think...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Grey squirrels

I woke up this morning to discover an extremely rare occurance, a sunny day in the middle of Autumn... So I thought, I must make the most of this. I decided to go to a nearby park to photograph grey squirrels. I knew a location with hundreds of tame squirrels which was a bonus, so I hopped into the car and went there.
Most of the day was spent filming but I did take some photos as well.

As its autumn the squirrels are always stashing their nuts in the ground which was behaviour which I wanted to photograph and I think that the first shot here shows it well...

These shots were what I wanted to get most as they show the animal with the Autumnal colours

I'm often found lying on the ground in order to get shots like this one, I get dirty but its worth for the outcome

I discovered a tree which was pure yellow and so lay down some peanuts in front of it in order to attract the squirrels to pose with it as a blurred background and here are the results...

 Here's one more photograph from the day to show the tameness of the squirrels

I was also very excited to be using my new Manfrotto video tripod today for the first proper time and can say it was amazing!!!!

Kit used:
-Canon 60D
-Sigma 150-500mm
-Canon 100mm L
-Manfrotto 504HD tripod

Friday, 2 November 2012

Wildlife of St Ives

I have just got back from a family holiday to St Ives in Cornwall and thought I would share with you some of the photos I took over the week. 
When I thought of St Ives and wildlife I thought seagulls, seagulls and more seagulls. When I got there however their were much more varied bird species which, despite all being very common, certainly made for great subjects to photograph. 

One of the birds which I particularly enjoyed photographing were the House Sparrows which had made home in a pile of unused lobster pots near the fishing boats. A lot of the birds were very dirty and often their feathers weren't well aligned. 

This particular bird was extremely scraggly 

The joy of working with these birds as well was that they were used to human company due to living in a very busy place which made photographing them a lot easier.
They also made for great silhouette shots with the ropes and wiring from the lobster pots:
Here the setting sun made a nice creamy red coloured backdrop for the photo

Another great bird which I found enjoyable to photograph was the Turnstones' who were very friendly. I found them foraging in the rock pools, there were around 10 at one site. I found that low angled shots worked well with these birds meaning that I got very wet and sandy... but I got some good photos so who cares.

One morning I was very privaliged to spot a group of around 6 dolphins around 50 metres out to sea. They were jumping out of the water and playing with each other. It was a real joy and something which I definatley did not expect to see. I took some photos although they did not come out great as they were so far away:

In this case they actually jumped completely out of the water which was amazing to watch

Obviously as it was Cornwall there were indeed plenty of Seagulls. Mobbing people for their chips and for their pasty . Although we see them as annoying birds I did enjoy photographing them not only because I could get close but also because of the way that their eyes stand out from the rest of their body. I hadn't noticed this before but they really do have beautiful eyes.

I also came across many other birds including many crows, finches and of course as I was on the coast Cormorants. 

Overall after not knowing what to expect about the wildlife of St Ives I can safely say I would enjoy going back their with my camera again... 

Kit used in these photographs - 
-Canon EOS 60D
-Sigma 150-500mm lens
-Canon 100mm L lens

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Kingfishers - New project

So I have decided to make a blog as I have recently started many new projects and wanted to share them with everyone.

About a week ago now I decided I wanted to begin a project on Kingfishers for the autumn/winter as I knew it would be very challenging and would allow me to push my photography forward. I began by simply looking on Google maps for rivers a short distance from my house. I noticed one which was around a 5 minute cycle ride away so I went there to check it out. I knew what I was looking for: clear water, not too deep but deep enough, good supply of fish and very importantly little dog walkers.

When I got to the site the first thing I did was look straight down into the river, I could see the bottom around 1-2 foot down, I then saw around 6 minnows swimming around. Minnows are small fish which Kingfishers love - things were looking good. I walked downstream in search of any perches leaning out into the water and I saw a few which seemed to be at a good height and strong enough for the birds.

I came back the next day with my hide hoping to see an actual Kingfisher. I waited for around half an hour before I saw a flash of blue and there it was in front of my eyes a Kingfisher, I'd never seen one before in my life so this was really special for me. I then knew that this was quite obviously a decent Kingfisher site.

I have been going there daily for the past 4 days now whenever I have a spare couple of hours (usually after college). Everyday I see the Kingfisher and I think that its an adult male as it has an all black beak and no white tip at the end of it. There is also another Kingfisher on the river but I don't see it as often and haven't been close enough to see if its male or female.
Screenshot from clip of the adult male (Canon 60D + Sigma 150-500mm)

I have seen it hunting on a few occasions however due to the recent rain we've had the river it running high and the water is not clear at the moment so his attempts haven't went well so I haven't actually seen him catch a fish yet. I did manage to film the Kingfisher diving off of its perch the other day though. (see below)
The orange blur is the Kingfisher (screenshot from film)

I'll be updating my blog soon when I get some more footage and I am also going to begin taking some stills when it becomes more reliable and I know some of it's favoured perches. Watch this space.