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...

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