Yellowstone Fall 2014

Yellowstone, USA.  A vast area of grand vistas and photogenic wildlife.  It is one of those iconic places I’ve always wanted to visit.

This year I booked on a trip to photograph the autumn colours and wildlife.  Elk and moose were a prime target as were bison, bald eagle and, if extremely lucky, bear, wolf and coyote.

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Wildlife photography is subject to the whim of Mother Nature and she has an evil sense of humour.  This year I’ve been plagued with unseasonably warm weather when trying to get to somewhere colder.  This trip was no different with temperatures during the day soaring to the 30 degree Celsius mark and no frosts overnight.  This meant the wildlife wasn’t playing ball as the elk didn’t think it was cold enough to come down and start the rut that we were hoping to see and photograph.

Undaunted, our guides worked their backsides off, going beyond the call of duty, trying to find us opportunities for photography.  Flexibility was the key here with a large amount of driving around scanning the surrounding scenery for photogenic subjects.

It takes hours to drive across Yellowstone and you are rewarded with breathtaking scenery, wildlife, geysers and the occasional overriding smell of sulphur.

I’m not much of a landscape photographer and most of my landscape shots are made with a 500mm lens, but there was plenty of opportunity here to practice along with help from one of my fellow photographers (thanks, Sam!).  I found it difficult to convey the expanse of the place in a single image as the eye scans the scenery to make up the picture in your head.  But it would have been rude not to at least try.

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So what wildlife did I get to see?  I know you’re itching to find out.  Well unfortunately there was no wolves to be seen and the only bear was a black bear at the information centre that was driven out of her habitat by a grizzly bear.  This gave me the first real appreciation of what happens at Yellowstone when something interesting appears.

Picture this.  Somebody sees something interesting as they are driving along.  They park their car off the road, get out and take a closer look.  If it’s good they might start taking pictures.  This then opens the honey pot as other cars slow down to see what they are doing, they also stop, get out and start taking pictures.  Repeat until mayhem ensues.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the circus.

It isn’t so bad if they are people who know how to behave around wildlife as this can all be done in a respectful way without causing stress for the subject and allow everyone to get an image.  There are rules in Yellowstone about how close you are allowed to get to wildlife, 25 yards for things like moose, elk and deer.  100 yards for the more dangerous inhabitants like wolf, bear and locals (OK, maybe not locals).  It is also good practice not to block off any form of exit the animal may have.  This is put in place to protect the wildlife and those watching it.  A buffalo is a heavy unit that can run faster than you, think of a small, angry family car chasing you down with the intension of grinding your bones into the dust, backing up and making sure the dust is ground into a fine powder before sprinkling onto some grass, eating it and passing said morsels in a few bowel movements.  Probably not a car that would sell terribly well, I grant you that, not much boot space.

Unfortunately the need for these rules was brought home whilst I was there.  Mid week, a bull moose was chasing a female near a campsite which is a popular place to see moose.  It is reported that a bus load of tourists turned up and that they along with the others there, photographers included, effectively corralled the animals chasing them wherever they went.  The female panicked and ran into the campsite falling over a BBQ stove breaking her leg.  The rangers had to make the difficult decision to put her to sleep, leaving her calf without a mother.  They are doubtful the calf will last the winter without her.  No photograph is worth that cost.

This was very bad news and I am very glad I was not there to witness it.  It is worth pointing out that thousands of moose are hunted and killed for sport each year.  So whilst the story is a sad and entirely avoidable one, it is worth putting it into perspective.

So you can imagine that hearing about this sort of occurrence can make one uncomfortable around these circus events.  It is always worth remembering that when a large number of people gather around a wildlife spectacle that you aren’t witnessing the circus, you are part of it.

But anyway, I’ll get off my soap box and get on with the blog.  There was plenty of buffalo.  Generally we saw them in ones and twos, but one evening we came across a large herd which must have numbered over 200.  The light was very good and our small group had them all to ourselves.  This is one of those situations you don’t quit until you run out of memory cards or light.  The herd kept moving across the road we were parked on so great care was taken not to get in their way, nobody wants to end up as buffalo manure.  The sound of them moving past, bellowing and grunting added to the spectacle.  We didn’t leave until the light did.  A magical encounter.

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Elk were few and far between unless going to the town of Mammoth where there were plenty laying around on the manicured grassy areas of the town centre or football field.  This didn’t lend to many good photographic opportunities but it was still great to see.  Lady luck didn’t elude us completely, though.  There were a few good encounters, the best one was one rain soaked morning when an impressive male elk decided to give us a good show.

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Pronghorn were fairly plentiful and there were a couple of decent photo opportunities with these flighty mammals.

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There were also a couple of decent encounters with mule deer.  One of these was the day after the Moose incident and a local resident got very upset with us, shouting that we were too close even though we were a good 50 plus yards away from the deer and were behaving very respectfully, as always.  Her shouting was causing the animals more disturbance than our presence and she called the rangers on us who promptly turned up, wished us a pleasant evening and left us alone to continue our photography without further comment.

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I did manage to see a few juvenile bald eagles, but they weren’t photograph-able.  And on the drive back to the motel one evening we spotted a coyote in the dark by the side of the road.

A trip to Yellowstone isn’t complete without visiting the touristy areas.  Old Faithful geyser was very popular, unsurprisingly, with the viewing benches filled for its regular ejections of steaming hot water.  Whilst it’s fairly large and reliable (hence the name) it isn’t the most impressive geyser photographically.  The rest of the enjoyable afternoon was spent walking 5 miles around the area looking at and photographing the geysers and hot water pools.  As the afternoon turned to evening we could here coyotes calling in the woods.

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So did Yellowstone live up to my hopes and expectations?  It’s a pretty tall order given the coverage in mainstream media is so impressive (I’ve watched the BBC’s Yellowstone series many times) and expectations need to be tempered with the reality that I only had a week whereas the big media productions would have had years to create their footage.  Also against us, as mentioned earlier, was the weather, making wildlife much sparser than normal for this time of year.  Having said that, even though it was hard work with lots of driving and the circus making things difficult, I have to say that as I type this on the first of my 2 flights home, I have a big smile on my face reliving the experiences and flicking through some of the pictures.

I want to say a big thank you to our guides, Danny and Kevin who worked so hard to get us to positions to get some nice images.  And thanks to the rest of the guests Sam, Richard, Marion, Matt, Helen, Charlie, Allison, Ellie, Jim, Morag and Emilia for the company and laughs.

A Short Journey North-West

I have just been fortunate enough to take a trip to Churchill in Manitoba, Canada in search of Polar Bears.  There is something about the Polar Bear (Ursus Maritimus or Bear of the Sea) that really grabs the imagination.  Maybe it’s because they’re an apex predator, maybe it’s the environment they thrive in or perhaps it’s because of the way they look.  Whatever the reason, this is was something I’d been looking forward to for a very long time.

The trip was put together by Natures Images with their usual care and attention to detail. The itinerary was fairly straightforward, for the first and last couple of days we would be in 4×4 vehicles and for 4 days in between we would have one of Frontiers North’s Tundra Buggies to ourselves.  This gave us plenty of room to move around and setup our kit.

Following a long days travel to Winnipeg I met my fellow photographers over a pint. All of us were excited about the prospect of photographing Polar Bears, which is handy given the nature of the trip.  One of our group was so keen on them that he has a tattoo of one on his arm!

After a restless night filled with dreams of ice and teeth we headed for our early flight and arrived in Churchill mid-morning.  The Arctic blast greeted us when stepping from the plane and the scene was beautiful after heavy snow the previous day and clear skies.

On the way to our hotel we were shown Polar Bear jail which houses bears who refuse to listen to reason.  The count was 15 inmates serving time when we were there.  They aren’t fed or watered, just given some snow to sleep on and time to think about what they’ve done.  This isn’t as bad as it sounds as the bears hardly eat at this time of year due to being in a state of waking hibernation and they get the vast majority of their water from their fat stores.  Not feeding them also means they don’t associate food with prison, if they did that then the re-offending rates would go through the roof.  After 28 days, they are moved to a safe location.

Polar Bear Jail

Polar Bear Jail

Polar Bear Jail

Bear Trap. No bears were trapped in the making of this image.

Bear on Parole

Polar Bear being airlifted from jail to a place of safety.

Our hotel in Churchill, the Iceberg Inn, was warm and comfortable with a friendly welcome from Dick, the owner.  After a quick lunch of delicious, good quality food we went then out in the 4×4’s in search of bears.  The first outing didn’t show much in the way of wildlife but we slowly got closer in time to a bear encounter with the first miss only a few hours away and the second a mere ten minutes.  We were honing in by the time it got dark and had high hopes for the following day.

Bright and early (well, early) the next day we headed out again fuelled with a full cooked breakfast and in the company of a local guide.  Our luck improved.  We quite quickly saw a bear way off in the distance, not photographable but we were now getting down to distance instead of time, closing in on the elusive ice bear.  A days search yielded a very accommodating Red Fox and Polar Bear mother and cub (not at the same time!) who were a bit closer and worth a go at photographing and we were fortunate to be able to get out of the cars to do this.

Now I can hazard a guess at what you’re thinking, dear reader, “Get out of the car?  Are you mad?”.  Well, a little insanity is useful when choosing to travel to somewhere this remote and cold and try to get close to the bears.  But not so crazy as not to be careful.  We always had to be very aware of the bear’s location and attitude to us and in close proximity to the vehicles in case a quick getaway was required.  These are dangerous animals and not to be messed with, they can cover 50 metres as quickly as 4.5 seconds at a sprint.  But a potentially larger threat is the bear you can’t see.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the subject you’re photographing and miss the attack from behind from these very intelligent creatures.  So it’s wise to keep a regular lookout, which we did.  But now you’re probably thinking, “Did it work?  Did he get eaten?”.  Read on and all will be revealed.

I'm watching you

I’m watching you

Red Fox

Red Fox

Red Fox

Red Fox

Polar Bear Mum

Polar Bear Mum with cub laying down in grass

Next day was our first on the Tundra Buggy.  These are large, purpose built vehicles designed for romping around on the sub-arctic tundra, hence the name.  They can go most places but will keep to trails for the most part to make the going a little faster and safer.  Think bus with huge tractor tread wheels, bench seats and a propane heater inside (which was kept on low so our kit didn’t fog up) with an outdoor viewing platform at the rear, handy for when the windows were occupied or there was something out the back worth looking at.

I must confess to being a little surprised by the number of Tundra buggies that would descend on any sighting.  It put me in mind of Africa with Land Rovers jostling for position around lions and cheetahs, although without as much sand.  And a bit more snow.  However, I must stress that the drivers were always checking that our presence wasn’t stressing the bears and would back off at the first sign of distress.  Mostly the bears ignored us.

Anyway, on this day it snowed a lot although the temperature was relatively warm, hovering around the -10C mark (take another 10 to 15 degrees off for wind chill) and we found a mother bear and her 11 month old cub who were sitting out the weather in some willow.  We decided to spend as long as we could with them which turned out to be the entire day and were treated to playful antics by the youngster which warmed the coldest hearts.

Mum taking a nap

Mum taking a nap

Youngster on the move

Youngster on the move

Rough and tumble

Rough and tumble

Chewy

Chewy

Our second day in the buggy gave us some nice light and a couple of bears, but quieter than the previous day and not quite as productive.  In this day and age of instant gratification, it’s a reminder that good things come to those who wait.  All was not lost as we had a representative from Polar Bears International on board who imparted information about the bears and their endangerment from climate change.  It’s believed the bears won’t be able to adapt to a warmer world without help as they are so specifically adapted to live off marine mammal blubber which they can only get to when the sea has frozen and their window to build up fat reserves for the summer is shrinking, as are the bears in size, weight and number.

Bear on Ice

Bear on Ice

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Chilling in the Willow

Chilling in the Willow

On the third day in the buggy, our patience was rewarded 100 times over.  This was the day that made the entire trip worthwhile for me.  There were two separate, very close encounters with male bears.  The first our driver skilfully setup so that we got a variety of images of the bear walking on the rapidly forming sea ice, both side on and face on.  After a while he came close to the buggy to check us out.

Cleaning

Cleaning

Bear and buggies

Bear and buggies

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

We then made our way to the Tundra Lodge where you can stay overnight on the tundra amongst the bears.  There we found a large male who was being very entertaining.  He started with eating kelp, not for the calorific but the chemical content which kick starts their metabolism and gives their digestive tract a workout after a summer of living off their fat reserves and very little else.  He started with digging, progressed to pounding like there was a seal under there and moved onto rolling around in the snow, occasionally looking up with an expression which said, “Are you getting this?  I can do this all day.”

Taking a walk

Taking a walk

Pound that kelp

Pound that kelp

Tickle my tummy

Tickle my tummy

Are you getting this?

Are you getting this?

After a while he decided to wander over to our buggy, perhaps lured by the smell from our lunch of hearty soup, and check us out.  He walked up and sat near the front of the buggy, very close to me.  He looked like he was working out if it was worth expending the calories to rip the driver door off and get at the tinned monkeys inside.  Watching him sat like that I felt a mixture of awe, respect and a bit of ancient primal urge to run like hell.  I wanted to reach out and ruffle his fur, giving him an ear rub like dogs enjoy so much and that would have been possible given how close he was.  Fortunately for me, the freshly awakened primal part of my brain quietly and firmly pointed out, “That would be a bad idea.”.  It was a compelling argument and the reason I still have use of all my limbs.  It was, however, an almost overwhelmingly moving and emotional experience for me.  I felt it a huge privilege to have got so close to such an impressive predator, looked him in the eye and shared the knowledge that I could quite easily have been lunch.  Very humbling.  After the encounter I found out he has been around the area before and has been given the name, Ralph.  Thank you, Ralph!

Coming to get you

Coming to get you

You look tasty

You look tasty

Thank you, Ralph!

Thank you, Ralph!

The last day in the Tundra buggy was the least eventful.  The temperature had dropped somewhat which meant the sea had frozen sufficiently early to allow the bears go out and hunt.  Good news for them, not such good news for us!  That coupled with near blizzard conditions made it a challenging day for both the photographers and our driver.  We did find some ptarmigan that were very active and an Arctic Fox curled up against the weather which was our main photographic opportunity for the day.

Ptarmigan

Willow Grouse

Sleeping Arctic Fox

Sleeping Arctic Fox

With the bears mostly gone out to sea, our last couple of days were spent in and around the town with our main targets being foxes.  Here we had a lot of luck, it has been a bumper fox year as there have been a lot of lemmings for them to feast on and feed their young.  We managed to photograph Red, Cross (so called because of the markings on their back) and Arctic foxes.  All of them were surprising in their boldness.  Once we’d been in place for a little while they were quite happy to go about their business which was either raiding the bins outside of a hotel or curled up, resting somewhere out of the wind.  They all looked in excellent condition with full, thick coats.  However, care was needed as we were told some of them carried rabies and parasites.  Their wariness of humans will undoubtedly increase soon enough as the hunting season has started.

Cross Fox

Cross Fox

Arctic Fox Chase

Arctic Fox Chase

Arctic Fox Portrait

Arctic Fox Portrait

Arctic Fox in low sun

Arctic Fox in low sun

The last day before starting the long journey home allowed for more fox photography.  In the afternoon we visited an area where a polar bear had been spotted and the final hour or so of the trip gave up a few more Polar Bear images.  What a perfect way to finish!

Early morning Cross Fox

Early morning Cross Fox

Snowy Cross Fox

Snowy Cross Fox

Large male

Large male

Alternative perambulation

Alternative perambulation

Considering a snack

Considering a snack

Getting a bit close

Getting a bit close

Time for a nap

Time for a nap

And in case you were still wondering, dear reader, I didn’t get eaten.

Thank you to all on the trip who helped make it so enjoyable.  To our guides, Danny, Mark and Gary I thank you for finding us opportunities, tips to help us get better images and keeping us safe and well fed.  To the other guests, Jay, Jules, Ann, Nigel, Andreas, Peter, Kevin and Elaine I thank you for the company, the laughs and the shared experience.  I hope to bump into you all again on future trips.

And now for the gushy bit.  I’m finding it difficult to put together a suitably positive set of superlatives to describe my time at Churchill.  It was exciting and emotional, frustrating and fulfilling, awe inspiring and beautiful.  It was an utter privilege to make the journey and experience the majestic, powerful, entertaining and enigmatic Polar Bear.  I have come away with a huge respect for the species and hope that there is some way they can be saved as the world will be a poorer place without them.

Before I left for Churchill I thought this was going to be a once in a lifetime trip.  It won’t be.  I will definitely be going back again as soon as I possibly can to once again go eye to eye with the great Ice Bear.

What A Weekend

This weekend was my annual pilgrimage to the Royal Geographical Society in London to attend Wildphotos, the UK’s premiere wildlife and conservation photography event.  There were speakers galore, exhibitors who didn’t need to try very hard to part us with our money and catching up with friends.

Mark Carwardine, our compere for Sunday, summed things up nicely at one point in the afternoon:  It’s one of those weekends where you either go away feeling inspired to up your game, or decide there’s no point trying any more and sell your kit as these guys are just so good.

Selling all my kit would mean I could move house tomorrow…

The weekend was filled with many excellent speakers showing an array of fine images.  There were a few speakers who really did raise the bar for one reason or another.

Greg du Toit was the first to show an almost OCD level of commitment to getting the picture, spending months sitting sat in an African drinking pool to make intimate images of lions.  He was rewarded with some amazing and memorable images, malaria and a few other tropical presents to take home.

Grzegorz Lesniewski impressed with his devotion to make images of wild wolves in remote areas, spending more than 9 days continuously in a hide to get the wolves used to his scent.  He was also rewarded with some very impressive images of Lynx.

Danny Green was another highlight with his talk on Puffins.  Amassing 1.2 million pictures of them after 5 years of work.  I always enjoy his talks with a huge number of images of the highest quality delivered in a down to earth, easy going way.

Our keynote speaker on Saturday was Michael “Nick” Nichols.  He spoke eloquently and at length about his work in Africa with elephants and lions.  A real eye opener about how elephants are poached for their ivory from a very early age.  How this can be stopped before the only elephants left are in captivity is a complex issue.

David Tipling taught us to work fast in tricky situations and to always carry a handy monopod.

Sergey Gorshkov showed the beauty of the Russian Arctic after many, many, many, many months of work (is that too many many’s?).  With so many (there it is again) superb images that I don’t know where to start.  The standout image of many standout images was an eye level, frame filling picture of Polar bear snarling.  Certainly one that would challenge the sphincter muscles if experienced firsthand.

Toshiji Fukuda enthralled with his devotion to the cause.  Learning English to give his talk at Wildphotos and thrilling us all with his devotion to making images of wild Amur Tiger’s.  74 days in a hide for 3 good images is an extraordinary commitment to the cause and one to be applauded from the rooftops.

Sandra Bartocha talked about creativity.  Something which really struck a cord with me as I’ve felt that’s my weakest area.  I can do the techie stuff easily enough.  I took more notes during her talk than all the others combined.

Last up were the young photographers who have done more in a few short years than I probably ever will.  Jodie Randall’s talk was both informative and deeply touching.  She’s a talented and artistic photographer who has been through an awful lot of heartache.  Bertie Gregory was a delight to listen to who seemed perfectly at ease talking to a couple of hundred people.  I can see a TV career for him.

So after all this, am I inspired or demoralised?  Am I ever likely to reach the heights of these world class photographers?  Will I be selling all my kit and moving to a nicer house, or knuckling down, finding a project or two to work on and hoping to be good enough to one day inspire others to action?

Well, I have far too many trips booked over the next year, starting with a once in a lifetime trip to Churchill, Canada in 4 weeks, to sell all my kit.  I have come away deeply inspired.  I’m thinking about projects that will both contribute something and stretch me in some way.  Watch this space.  Although it may take a few years…

Puffin Bonanza

When Natures Images first mentioned that they were looking at putting a trip together to just work on one species for a week like the pros do I was very interested.  When they said the subject was puffins I wanted to sign up there and then!

Eighteen long months later I was on my way to the Shetlands for my first visit to the islands and my first encounter with puffins.

A day after arriving on Shetland mainland we were scheduled to fly out to Fair Isle – the remotest inhabited island in the UK.  Mother nature had other ideas and all flights for the day where cancelled due to low cloud obscuring the airstrip, leaving the only option of taking the boat which was already taking our luggage. Eleven of the twelve in our group made it onto the boat leaving one of our guides behind to join us a couple of days later. Well done, Paul, for taking one for the team!  In hindsight, he may have got the better deal. Whilst the crossing wasn’t terribly rough (forty foot swell), the boat we were in wasn’t laden down with cargo so bobbed around like a cork causing some of the group to donate their breakfast to the fishes. Over two hours later we were kissing the ground of Fair Isle and headed to the bird observatory to claim our rooms and a well deserved late lunch, very happy to be there.

Rain

A little horizontal rain doesn’t bother the puffins

On the first evening a few of us went out to find our first puffins.  Fortunately they weren’t terribly far away and the first images were made. The next five days passed far too quickly. There was a substantial hill to attack to get to the best of the colonies (which conveniently burnt off breakfast) and the days were generally spent photographing the puffins coming and going about their business. Mostly the weather was cloudy and grey with some rain which meant photography was possible throughout the day.

Comedy Puffin

Percival was unaware that the other puffins were making fun of him behind his back.

Hiding

Poking their head out of the burrow

Gotta keep clean

Gotta keep clean

Sand eel delivery

Sand eel delivery

The sun did show itself a few times.  The first time the puffins seemed to have decided it was a good opportunity to go to sea to feed, bless ’em.  But on the last evening we had both puffins and good light and a few short hours to put into practice all that had been learnt over the preceding days.  More photos were made in that last hour of that day than in an entire day previously.

Sunset

Sunset

Backlit wing

Backlit wing

Polite fight

Polite fight

Puffin in thrift

Puffin in thrift

Simple portrait

Simple portrait

Altogether now

Altogether now

I have a confession to make.  Over the week I grew to enjoy the company of puffins immensely.  They have a politeness about them, perhaps because it looks like they are wearing a tuxedo.  They are funny and serious, curious and wary, combative and cooperative.  They start fights at the drop of the hat and finish them by turning away from their opponent and sitting down.  They sneak around spying on each others burrows and seem constantly on the move.  When in flight they move like a bullet, making flight shots tricky.  On land they either waddle around in a comical fashion or get their heads down and run like crazy.  If you sit still for long enough they will come up and check you out, giving you accusatory looks, probably critiquing your technique or because you might be in the way of their burrow.  They are wonderful, funny, entertaining and cute.  I have fallen hopelessly in love with the puffin!

Sheep rock flypast

Sheep rock flypast

Turning for approach

Turning for approach

Banking

Banking

I have come away from the Shetlands with a huge respect for the people and wildlife that live there and the natural forces that shape the islands.  You are a passenger to the weather conditions and need a certain mental toughness to thrive.  I cannot wait to return.

Thank you to everyone on the trip for helping to make it so enjoyable.  Our two guides, Danny Green and Paul Hobson were superb offering advice, inspiration, encouragement and witty banter in equal measures.  And the other guests Jeff, Penny, Janet, Pia, Karin, Ingrid, Marielle, Moira and Betty all helped to make it a week I will never forget.  Thank you all.

The Gang

The Gang

Out Foxed

I must confess to having a love-hate relationship with the red fox.  As a chicken owner, my attitude towards them is unashamedly NIMBY (not in my backyard).  As a photographer I find them a fascinating and enjoyable subject.

A couple of days ago I spent a very pleasant afternoon in a hide run by Nature Photography Hides setup specifically to photograph wild foxes in a natural setting.  I booked the date in the hope of seeing a cub but as is always the case with wildlife, nothing is guaranteed.

After losing the Bank Holiday battle with the M25 I arrived 15 minutes late (sorry, guys) and our guide, Tom, gave us a thorough briefing on what may happen during the session.  After putting out the food he left us ensconced in the hide ready for the stars of the show.

Waiting is an accepted part of this game, made easier in no small part by smartphones and a good mobile phone signal.  It also helps when there’s more than one of you in the hide so there can always be at least one set of eyes on the lookout and someone to quietly talk to.  This is less helpful if you’re busy chatting when the first fox turns up and you miss the shot before said fox has a mouthful of food.  No worries, alertness resumed and we were rewarded with further appearances.

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We’d been told that there was a cub around and that it had made an appearance a few days previously, but not since.  Fingers were firmly crossed.

You can imagine my delight when a cub popped it’s little head over a clump of grass.

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But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Three more cubs arrived, all in search of food.

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It looked like it was two families, one litter of three and a single cub. The three didn’t hang around for long but the single cub stayed to eat it’s meal, which was nearly as big as it was, dragging it around and fending off magpies with a cute ferocity.

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It was a thoroughly enjoyable and productive few hours thanks to the foxes and my friendly and knowledgeable hide companion, thanks Nick!

And of course, I want to go back and see those cubs growing up and playing!

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15 Minutes of Fame

I deserved a treat so I booked a day in Nature Photography Hides Kestrel hide, because I’m worth it.

Parking at the farm I took a short walk negotiating the free range chickens, past the spring lambs and cattle to the hide, which was expertly placed in a tall hedge to make it as inconspicuous as possible.  These guys know how to keep disturbance to a minimum.  Wildlife welfare first!

Settled into the hide with my camera ready for the Kestrel, I sat and waited.  Apparently she tended to turn up at around 11am and again at around 3pm so I knew it was likely to be quiet for a few hours but this didn’t mean I could keep my eyes off the perches or move around much.  Wildlife is unpredictable after all.

Thinking that a sure fire way to get twitchy wildlife to turn up would be to have my trigger finger occupied with food, I started digging into my lunch of cold mini venison burgers and cherry tomatoes, very nice.  It was a good and tasty theory but sadly debunked as 11 came and went with no sign of the bird.  Although there was a very vocal Robin keeping me company.

A few more hours passed.  I could hear the Kestrel calling a few times but still no sight of her.  3:30pm arrived and I’d finished my food and my back was aching from the lack of movement. Beginning to think that today wasn’t going to be my day and chalk it up to experience, I consoled myself in the knowledge that the guys had done everything right in setting up the hide and placing the tasty food for her and that I had done everything right by moving little and being very patient.

5 minutes later she swooped in low, fast and quiet, landing on one of the perches and proceeded to devour the first of the offerings.  What a beauty!  Needless to say I was delighted and started taking photos like crazy with no time for chimping.  Once the first mouse was consumed she moved onto the second perch and proceeded to try and remove the remaining bait.  After a few failed attempts she managed to remove the food and took off, presumably back to her offspring.

The whole encounter with this stunning bird lasted around 15 minutes and was an utter privilege, totally worth the wait and I hope to return soon for more Kestrel goodness.

Kestrel Kestrel Kestrel Kestrel Kestrel Kestrel

Better Late Than Never

We’re having a lovely Winter this Spring. Although that isn’t exactly true, it’s been pretty rubbish.  Just cold and mostly grey with the occasional sprinkling of snow.

It seems like everything’s late this year so it was particularly refreshing to look skywards and see the familiar shades of grey replaced with a bright, warm, shiny orb surrounded by blue.

So I took the short trip to my local nature reserve to see what was going on with high hopes of getting something nice on my sensor.  In all the excitement I forgot my hide key which limited my photographic choices somewhat but undeterred I continued, confident that a masterpiece was still achievable in the few hours I had available to me.

Opportunities rewarded the patient and careful observer and whilst my masterpiece eluded me, I did enjoy seeing a bit of colour and feeling the warmth of the sun on my head.

Catkins

Catkins

Hey bud!

New buds on fresh tree growth.

Backlit Leaf

Backlit bramble leaf.

Gorse Flower with Companion

Gorse flower with a sunbathing companion.

Gorse Flower

Gorse flower, head on.

Cellular

Backlit, new growth, comfry leaf looking a little alien.