Saturday, 24 March 2012

Great Creted Grebe Photo Story Part One

As the year begun i vowed to improve all aspects of my photography in the pursuit of achieving a higher standard and giving people a better insight into some of the UK's best wildlife. To achieve these goals i have done a few things, technically i have invested in a new lens (the Nikon 200-400mm F4 VRII) and i now shoot and edit in RAW and have also upgraded my editing software and taken time to alter my editing style.

In the field i decided that apart from my usual "big" days out to far flung places i would concentrate even more than last year at staying as local as possible. Staying local can be brilliant as you can be very focused on certain subjects, you get to know individual animals and their behaviour and you can work out what time is best for light and activity etc. Obviously staying locally can be restricting but its simply a matter of working with what you have got and trying to get out as much as possible. Working locally means i can pick a subject and try and get a variety of shots showing all kinds of behaviour and my first main subject of the year are Great Crested Grebes.

Great Crested Grebes are members of the Grebe family and can be found on our various bodies of water around the country, we have nearly 10,000 pairs in the UK. Back in February i decided to pick these lovely birds to study and began researching various sites where they would be good to photograph. I did a bit of research on the computer and visited a site in Hertfordshire but after spending nearly a day there i just couldn't see the potential in it. My most local site (10mins from home, 5 mins from work) was productive last year but as March began it didn't look like it was going to be this year, however in a very short period of time the site became suitable again with 2 pairs of Grebes taking up residence on the larger of the 2 lakes but both pairs seemed fairly confiding and i realised i could definitely work with them.

The fishing lake they reside on is a great site, the fisherman that stand round the edge of the lake have allowed the birds to become quite tame and the various trees that surround the lake along with the reedbed provide some great water colour. The site also enjoys good amounts of light and the birds can be both backlit and frontlit which helps in creating different images. Both pairs have been very good to me and so far i have managed to capture all the key types of behaviour from the courtship dance (unfortunately no weed involved) to tentative nest building and then mating and strengthening the nest ready for egg laying. Hopefully this good luck will continue and i can record some feeding behaviour as well as the birth of young and their subsequent rearing. Here are some of my favourite images so far, enjoy...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Vole Patrol

Here are a selection of images of a Bank Vole photographed in my mate Adam's garden. He was popping out from underneath a shed and foraging for any seeds dropped from the bird feeders around a compost heap. We enjoyed photographing him around the compost heap but also decided to create an interesting "set" to photograph him in.

A rusty pipe was lying around and by placing some seeds at the entrance of the pipe we encouraged the Vole to run through the pipe to grab the seeds, we laid down on the floor to get a good perspective of his world and he became so used to us he wouldn't just run through the pipe but would sit at it's entrance eating before scampering back to the shed, i say "he"....this may be a female with young somewhere or we could've been in the company of a pair of Voles and just kept seeing one at a time! Who knows but we enjoyed photographing something a bit different and often overlooked. Enjoy!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Puddle Lovers

Myself, Matt Newman and Daniel Trim visited Upper Hollesley Common in Suffolk on a gorgeous bright sunny Sunday last weekend, it was the warmest day of the year and we hoped that the warm dry weather would result in plenty of birds visiting some of the puddles on site that so far have proven essential drinking sites.

The main species we hoped to photograph were the Common Crossbills that require a good source of water due to their very dry diet of pine cones. The day wasn't as easy as we thought it would be, 2 puddles were being visited but we wanted to concentrate our efforts on 1 puddle as that puddle had the best light on it and also had the best background, we also wanted to get as low as possible, something that other photographers didn't seem keen on but we didn't think standing up with camera on a tripod or even having the tripod low-ish wouldn't lend itself to dynamic images as much as if we got flat to the ground.

The sun took a while to hit "our" puddle and even then a pair of Crossbills would only visit for a drink once an hour, this meant our necks and backs were taking alot of strain! However, when a bird did land we were the closest we have ever been to these fantastic birds and couldn't believe how big and chunky these finches actually were compared to the tiny Siskins that were also coming down to drink. Being a sunny Sunday the site was in constant use by other photographers, birdwatchers, walkers, groups of children, families and even ponies, this constant disturbance meant that often birds would look like they were about to come down to drink only to bottle it due to someone walking past the puddle and then we'd have to wait even longer for our 20 seconds to photograph, it was tricky and you had to be patient!

The second puddle was further from the car park and we did decide to give it a go, it was far more productive in terms of having more birds coming down more regularly but the light is never that nice on this puddle and the background and ugly mud colour all made images a little uglier but this puddle did yield more images and a beautiful male did land here only feet away from me. Overall it was a good day, nice to make use of such a great day for light and amazing to be so close to such a brilliant UK species and get some images of it. Enjoy!

Monday, 5 March 2012

A Northern Winter Part Three: Red Squirrels

We spent an enjoyable morning photographing Red Squirrels whilst in Scotland. Using Neil McIntyre of Scottish Wild Images we had full access to 2 Red Squirrel sites where the little chaps are lured in with hazel nuts, scoff in front of you and move around to a variety of lovely locations to photograph them in. For our first time photographing these guys it was simply a matter of getting some nice portrait images of them, the weather was overcast but i was pleased with the results and love to spend more time with them attempting some more creative images. To be honest it was just amazing to have them running around our feet as they are amazing creatures, Neil's hard work of feeding them and creating 2 different sites is a testament to him! Enjoy!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Northern Winter Part Two: Crested Tit

An afternoon in Scotland was spent photographing Crested Tits at a feeding site that this winter has around 4 pairs frequenting peanuts on a regular basis. The birds clearly aren't as desperate for food as they may have been if the winter was alot harsher but they are still keen to take advantage of free food and during the afternoon we had many visits by these wee smart birds.

The site is excellent as you can alter perches and encourage the birds to land in various places, this type of photography has its good and bad points, for a first time in Scotland and only a very short time it was essential to firstly guarantee seeing these birds and secondly to have they popping up in front of you exactly where you are pointing your camera to maximise the chances of nailing some decent shots. I do prefer environmental photography and obviously capturing these birds moving around some foliage would have been a fun challenge but realistically such small birds are probably best being encouraged to nice perches and after looking at my shots i do like them alot, i would definitely take this opportunity again and would go back with new ideas to capture the birds in different ways. Enjoy the images...