I am currently discussing a regular column with them covering how to get close and photograph a variety of species, keep checking back for updates!
For the last eight months I’ve been slowly but surely making progress on a badger photography project in the local private woods I spend much of my time in. Badgers are very difficult creatures to photograph for several reasons; first they are very conservative and do not like any changes to their environment, if they sense something is different or strange they will make a bolt for it, secondly they have an amazing sense of smell (some sources say 800 times that of humans!), third they mainly come out in the dark making photography more tricky and finally – after thousands of years of hunting – they do not like us humans one bit in the least and want to be as far away from us as possible!
I decided that in order to build a long term photography project with this family I would need to move very slowly with the aim of building trust so I could eventually get near to them to photograph and them observe them going about their daily natural activities. It would be a case of slowly slowly catchy badger…!
In order to build a good level of trust I’ve divided my project into several distinct stages. The first was to build a wooden hide nearby, this would be the basis of where I photograph and watch the badgers and where my customers could do so with me at a later date. It is a place away from their sett which they can feel relaxed with and comfortable while knowing that if they want to they can leave easily. Once the hide was built I then needed to get the badgers visiting on a regular basis. As with all animals, free food is always appreciated and I started leaving small but regular bait down at the same spot each day. My aim here was to give them a small amount of supplementary food, not to replace their whole diet. This means that they come down, tuck into some food and then disappear off into the woods after to continue their foraging and natural behaviour. Over the months I experimented with all sorts of foods and finally found one which is irresistable to them. Slowly but surely they got used to visiting the spot and hide, being such conservative creatures, once this daily visit gets set into their routine they continued to visit on a regular basis. The next stage was to get them used to human smells so I have been moving around the area lots, leaving out t-shirts i’ve worn and sitting watching them when the visit. This slowly got them used to my smell so that they associated the food with it rather than fear it.
This long and drawn out process has been very productive and they are now visiting every night within around 30 minutes of me placing the food out. I am now at the point where I can sit a few metres away from them and watch them foraging and relaxing in the area. I am gradually getting them used to the strange clicks and flashes of my camera and have started to get some reasonable shots.
Assuming all continues to go well I will be running badger photography sessions from around October so if you’re interested please get in touch and we can arrange a date. This is a really special opportunity to get close to an animal which people very rarely see, there’s nothing quite like sitting in the dark hearing the cracking of branches (they’re not the stealthiest of creatures) all around only to see that very familiar black and white head poking out from the dark!
This photograph will be followed up by a four page interview in October’s edition so keep an eye out for that too. You can photograph this kingfisher and it’s family on my kingfisher photography workshop. Please get in touch if you would like to photograph these beautiful birds and we can arrange a convenient date.
I spent last week photographing puffins on a small island off the Pembrokeshire coast called Skokholm. Positioned next to the highly popular Skomer island, Skokholm offers a less touristy, quieter and more wild experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are no day trip options to the island and a minimum of 4 days stay in required, there is also no running water or luxuries which I think really adds to the experience.
With around 2500 puffins and an abundance of other bird life, including manx shearwaters, razorbills and fulmers there is no shortage of amazing wildlife photography opportunities. I spent my whole trip focusing on the puffins and divided my time into getting a range of flight, portrait and wide angle shots. Along with being amazingly photogenic, puffins are fantastic birds to observe and photograph. Even a few days of being surrounded by these comedy characters give you an insight into how hard their life is. During the breeding season they constantly journey out to sea and then back to their burrows with beaks full of sand eels for their young. At sea they are bullied and stolen from by razorbills and back on land black backed gulls patrol the coast to attempt to steal any fish they bring back to land. As so often with nature, the longer you observe the more drama and intricacies you see; the gulls patrolling the coast appear to have have their own territories which they fiercely defend against any other gulls who may choose to try invade. The gulls seem to have good knowledge of their territories and often seem to have picked a “favourite” burrow to watch, most probably to the despair of the puffin owner. On a few occassions I even saw a puffin forward roll and crash land into its burrow only to be followed by a gull which would throw it back out into the air and steal all of the eels. Occassionaly a puffin will “lose” its burrow and will wander around with a mouth full of eels looking incredibly anxious, eventually it will either locate its burrow and dive in or get mobbed by a gull, drop its food and fly back out to sea. Overall Skokholm was one of my best wildlife photography experiences and I will be sure to return next year.
I have applied for permission to lead a small tour of photographers to Skokholm next year. The local wildlife trust are holding a meeting to decide whether this will be possible and I will keep you updated. If you are interested in attending then drop me an email and I will keep you updated directly.
I always find this type of photography fascinating as it reveals details of our smaller neighbours which wouldn’t normally be seen with the naked eye and therefore opens people’s eyes to a whole new world into a species life which they may well have previously ignored before. Take for example the spider photographed at the top of this post. This spider is a called a nursery web spider. This spider is commonly found in the UK and can be found sitting on the top of a leaf sunning itself. It’s a stealth predator so whilst it is sunbathing it is also keeping a keen eye out for unsuspecting prey ambling along. When something appetising does appear it will jump into action and overpower its victim with power and speed. Even more interesting are the private habits of this spider; the female spider seems to enjoy trying to eat the male when he tries to mate with her. To get around this the male brings her a gift such as a fly to distract her whilst he does his work. Once the act is done the male scarpers (or gets eaten!) and then the female proceeds to even more intricate and fascinating behaviour; she lays her new eggs into a silk cocoon ball which she carries around in her fangs. When they are ready to hatch she spins a silk nursery web tent and releases the spiderlings into it. She will guard this tent over the first few days of their lives at which point the spiderlings wiull be large enough to disperse with a better chance of survival.
All of this amazing wildlife and behaviour from such a small creature which no doubt lives in you back garden. Forget the African plains for wildlife, we have it all here if you take the time to look!
If you’re interested in getting into macro photography then I run courses which gives you the skills you need to start. Check out my macro photography course page here for more details.
I’ve set myself up with a small hide which overlooks a quiet stretch of private river. From the riverbank I’ve positioned a perch which the kingfishers now use on a daily basis. Every morning they sit on the perch watching for movement in the water, when they see a fish they dive straight down into the water and often bring a stickleback or other small fish back up. They have an interesting method of killing the fish they catch, they hit the fish against the perch to stun the fish and then swallow it whole. I’ve recorded footage of the kingfisher in action, you can watch it at the following link.
Every time I see these birds they take my breath away, they are such amazing colours and it’s a great experience to sit just a couple of metres away from them and to observe them in their natural habitat.
This year a couple of kingfishers have already paired up and are sharing the stretch of riverbank where I photograph. They will be very busy over the forthcoming months rearing their young. Kingfishers nest in a burrow of up to 1 metre in length which they excavate with their beak. At the end of this tunnel is a cavity which they will lay their eggs and raise the young on a bed of fish bones and pellets. Typically, between five and seven eggs are laid which both the male and female take a role in incubating. The eggs will hatch after around three weeks and the young will stay in the nest for another 3 – 4 weeks. When they are large enough they will come to the burrow entrance to be fed by the parents. Due to the sensitive nature of these birds I have positioned my hide around half a kilometre away to avoid any disturbance. Once inside my hide they are not even aware of my presence and will often sit for anywhere up to 15 minutes watching the world go by.
As the year goes on I’ll keep adding more photographs of these stunning birds, I have set up a limited number of kingfisher photography workshops which are selling out quickly. For more information please visit here.
On the second day we focused on photographing movement. Again the weather was far from good (at times we were even lucky enough to have torrential rain!), but thankfully Dawn was more than happy to get outside and involved whether it was wet or not. We started with a couple of hours down at my woodland bird hide and then moved on to a local bird reserve where we worked on perfecting freezing and blurring motion and other techniques such as panning. We finished off the day with another session of macro photography in a meadow and got some nice photographs of bumblebees and dragonflies. All in all a great two days, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching Dawn and was really happy to see her photography improve.
I will add more of these short reviews of my other September and October 1:1’s when I get a chance (July 2015 maybe?!)
All images below © of the photographer.