Thursday, 7 November 2013

Shetland part 1 - tracking Dog Otters

From the first moment that I thought about going to Shetland, I always wanted to see and photograph Otters. That was the main reason for me going. However I also knew that it wouldn't be likely for me to see one close enough to get any decent pictures.
The work of Charlie Hamilton James and Simon King are what attracted me to the Shetland islands. Their stunning documentaries and countless photographs of the famous but elusive Shetland Otters. Most of the footage I had seen was of dog Otters, these are male adult Otters which are a lot more solitary than the females who tend to stay with the cubs. I assumed therefore that I would be more likely to see a Dog Otter than I would be to see a family. 

So the story of how I saw my first ever wild Otter goes as follows.
Me and my dad were studying a map of the island we were staying on to look to see if there were any potential locations to watch Otters. I was looking mainly for sheltered inlets or 'voes' close to fresh water (I'll explain why later). My dad pointed out a place named 'Otterswick' which at first seemed to be to obvious but I thought I'd go and have a look. 

In and around low tide is the best time to watch Otters on Shetland because this is when the kelp beds are out of the water and the Otters can be seen searching for crabs and fish in the shallows.
I arrived at the location around 1 hour before low tide. I begun by slowly walking through the fields which overlooked the rocky beach, looking for any signs of an Otter as if there was one there already I didn't want it to spot me.
I couldn't see anything so I went onto the beach to see if there were any signs and there were. I could see clear Otter prints in the sand which ran for about 30 metres from the river to some rock pools. I followed the tracks and at the end of them was a half eaten Velvet Crab and by the smell I could tell it was still fresh. At that point I turned round to see if there were any other signs of where he had gone from that point and to my amazement I saw a single Otter gracefully sliding into the water from a kelp covered rock, where I had been stood just 2 minutes before. 
At that point I was in such shock that I couldn't physically move my hand to lift the camera up but instinct told me to drop to the floor to avoid being spotted, so I did and smashed my shins on the way down. My heart was beating at double speed and I lifted up my camera and begun firing shots, even though the Otter was around 50 metres away from me so they were nothing special. Luckily he did not spot me or catch my sent because I was down wind at the time.

Bad quality but I didn't care as I was watching a real life, wild Otter...

The Otter quickly dived under the water and surfaced again around 50 metres from the shoreline. He would repeatedly dive under the water and on most occasions surface with a fish which is pretty incredible. He would be under water for around 30 seconds at a time which was the time that I would move to get a better view, so as he came up I would drop down into the rocky shore and get wet because I wouldn't look where I was putting my foot. I spent about 10 minutes running and lying down to get a better view but he was always too far out at sea for me to be able to take good photos.

I spent around half an hour watching him hunting in the kelp beds which was such a privilege for me. I had hoped to see Otters on my visit, maybe get some photos but I didn't think that I would watch a Dog Otter hunting. 

After half an hour he begun to head towards the rocks on the other side of the wick. I looked over and could see that there was a field above the rocks that he was heading for so I slowly and carefully made my way over. I made sure that I was still down mind and out of sight and started walking through the field to the point that I saw the Otter get out of the water.
To my amazement, about 10 metres below me, the Otter was out of the water cleaning his fur. *Otters need to wash after every hunt to maintain the waterproof properties of their fur, as these are river Otters NOT sea Otters*. I then had a tricky decision to make... I was so close to the Otter and the area was so calm that if I were to take any photos, the Otter would be spooked by the sound of the shutter. So I decided not to take photos and enjoy the moment for as long as I could. The lighting was poor and my lens was misting up anyway so......
When the Otter finally stopped cleaning he headed under a rock which was about 30 metres away where I was able to take this amazing photo - wildlife photographer of the year maybe?

Yep... that is an Otters tail...

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Frog Blog - Part I

Spring is a great time for wildlife photographers and nature lovers alike as all of the animals are becoming active again, the flowers are beginning to bloom and new life is starting. This year I wanted to start Spring off with something which I haven't photographed before and I thought why not make it simple and go with the Common Frog...

I was lucky to go out in the first week of spring and within about 5 minutes I came across a corner of a pond full with Frog spawn, being closely guarded and nurtured by two adult frogs. Frogs can lay up to 4000 eggs and lay numerous batches each year. I'm always amazed  by how much one female can lay and enjoy looking closely at each egg and realising that there is a future frog in each one however on average only 5 out of 2000 tadpoles will survive to become adult frogs

I began photographing the frogs and chose to use my Canon 100mm L Macro lens. This was the top choice for me as the detail produced is fantastic, the minimum focus distance is 15cm so I was able to get very close to the subjects and also being able to go down to f2.8 allowed me to get some really nice shallow depth of field shots. 
Most of the time the frogs were under the water, probably because it is safer and they were nurturing the spawn, but they kept surfacing for air every other minute. This looked instantly like a great shot as only the head would come out of the water. The detail on the eyes was something I wanted to capture as well. I set my camera to auto focus and was holding it parallel to the waters surface (trying my best not to drop it) and I waited for one to surface. 
It was very hard as each time one came up by the time I focused in it would descend into the water again. I was patient however and managed to get some shots which I was really happy with. 

I was really happy with this photo but I think if I was to take it again I would have got closer to the water the be more level with the frog.

When I went back a couple of days later one of the frogs was out of the water which allowed me to get some different type of shots.

This particular frog, when out of the water, didn't seem phased by my presence at all. He allowed me to get extremely close and didn't move or even twitch. This allowed me to get some really cool close up images of the eye. For this photo below I was only around 20cm away with my lens, the photo isn't cropped in. 

Thank you for taking your time to read this, please leave a comment of your thoughts. I am hoping to try and take some underwater photos of the frogs soon which should be fun and hopefully I will have some good results to show. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Early mornings and golden light...

I've begun a new 'project' type of thing, where I have been trying to perfect my bird silhouette photos. To do this I have been using the sunrise as a backdrop. The reason I am doing it at this time of year is because you don't have to wake up too early to watch the sunrise (at the moment its about 8am) whereas in the summer you'd have to be up at 4am to have any chance, so although the title says 'early mornings' it's not actually that early...

I've been going to a site which is only about a 10 minute walk from my home which is at the top of a hill making for a good view of the sunrise. There are lots of fence posts as it's near a farm and there are plenty of Robins, Blackbirds, Sparrows, etc. which make for perfect subjects for silhouettes.

This is the fence post which I have been most commonly using as the sun rises perfectly behind it creating a wonderful silhouette and a bright glow. The mornings have to be clear for it to work but some small clouds or plane trails make for interesting pictures as well.

That brings me on to my next point. With this 'project' I am very much restricted for many reasons. Firstly for these silhouettes to work it needs to be a clear sky but there has been around 4 clear sky mornings in the last 3 weeks where I live. Secondly I have to leave for college on weekdays before the sun even rises. Lastly there is only a 10-15 minute window of time when the light is perfectly orange or 'golden' and if the birds to not comply and land on the perches in this time then I wont get any photos. 

So down to the photos. The first time I went to this location I knew what I wanted and set up my camera and set down some bird food to entice the birds in. However they weren't  interested and instead ate in the fields opposite. One bird however did perch on one of the fence posts but not the one I wanted. I was still able to get a nice photo with the beautiful orange light behind. I think that the plant around the fence does make for a more interesting composition as well.

I also tried to take some photos of flying birds as the golden light had gone however my camera didn't want to focus on the birds so left a slightly out of focus image which would have been great. This one was of 3 swans.

The next time I went was this morning. The light was amazing and their wasn't a cloud in the sky. I set up my camera (Canon EOS 60D  |  Sigma 150-500mm) and also set up my GoPro to time lapse the sunrise. I then waited until the sun began to rise. The birds were definatley a lot more co-operative and were eating my food before sunrise. I was slightly worried that they would finish it all before the sun had even risen but luckily they didn't. The sun rose at precisely 8.03am (in case you were wondering). The whole atmosphere and look of the area changes as soon as the sun peeks over the horizon. Everything turns orange and the birds behaviour changes. They begin to sing frantically and are more eager to feed. 

Many of the birds were using the fence post to feed which allowed me to get some nice shots but they weren't posing perfectly so I think another trip is in order. Before they feed they line up in the trees waiting for their turn which also made nice photos. Here's the best ones from this morning:

This is a robin which wasn't singing but was actually yawning... The different shades in the background were produced by small clouds and plane trails and made for a great backdrop.

I really like this photo but am not really sure why. The light was fading at this point but I still managed to get a dark silhouette and I fell the composition is quite nice.

This is a robin and although this is a nice silhouette its quite boring as the bird isn't singing or doing much.

So that concludes this part of the 'sunrise saga'... pretty catchy. I am definatley going to be taking some more as its actually really fun to do. Please tell me what you think of all of these photos, ones you like, ones you don't like... Thank you for reading.