There a few places in the UK where you can experience the sights and sounds of nature any better than the North Norfolk coast during the Spring Tides that start in earnest from this month onward and for me herald the onset of the Autumn and Winter months. Its a place I never get tired of and everytime I visit it never fails to amaze me with the beautiful spectacles in nature that I witness.
Over last couple of days I have been there with clients on my Spring Tides one day workshops. We were treated to some amazing numbers of birds flying just feet over our heads as dawn broke, which was an amazing experience to witness. Your sight is not great so you rely on your other senses to see what’s going on which only heightens this amazing experience.
These spring tides happen 2-3 times a month throughout the autumn and winter months. They are the biggest and best tides for witnessing the thousands of birds roosting on the mudflats, being pushed closer to shore. Sights and sounds of nature that are amazing and never forgotten once you witness this breathtaking event in nature.
During a Spring Tide most if not all of the estuary is consumed by the sea and submerged underwater. Out on the mud and sand flats you’ll see thousands of wading birds feeding at low tide, as the tides rises, the mud and sand flats disappear underwater and the birds are suddenly forced to move closer into shore by the incoming sea. They then take off, and fly in vast and awesome flocks towards you on the beach at Snettisham,a place that provides a safe refuge in which to rest until the falling tide allows them back onto the tidal flats.
Some of the birds from Geese,Redshanks,Oystercatchers and Grey Plovers are wonderful to watch in flight as the fly overhead escaping the oncoming tide, but for sheer size and show the smaller waders, such as Dunlin,Knots really steel the show for me. They perform for the gathering public that make the early start to witness one of natures most amazing spectacles. These smaller waders gather in great ,dense packs and lines, almost like bee swarms, rising, falling, twisting and turning all in perfect, rhythmic sweeps and stalls, before pouring into the roost site like falling hailstones.
Once they have landed they seem like they are not quite happy,un-decided its safe from birds of prey that circle the sky on the lookout for an easy breakfast. So up they come and do it all again, twisting and turning in the sky, until, once again they land almost in the same or close to where they were in the first place. When the birds are in the sky they are almost as one, one minute dark,the next silvery white, turning their backs to you, then their pale undersides in a show of coordination that’s second to none.I have never seen two birds make contact, making this site a truly magical event to witness in nature.
We visited many different places I know around the North Norfolk coast during the rest of their days with myself and both clients had some wonderful encounters with other waders and birds.
On my one to ones I always go through and explain the importance of simple composition, giving the images room to ‘Breath’ and the most important tool in the box of being a wildlife photographer, which is fieldcraft, approaching subjects without causing them distress,using the cover available to break up your shape and silhouette where the wildlife will see you before you know it.
I do this in many ways, one of which is to show the client(s) how I use my own camera, illustrating the processes at first hand, giving an insight into which and what settings I use, showing techniques in camera, composing the image in different ways and showing the clients the ideas I have etc. I feel this is a very powerful learning tool for people that attend my workshops.
All my One To Ones, Photo-Tours,Workshops are run along the same lines, with my great passion for nature being one of the key elements in showing and teaching people how to have that contact with nature, which is all around them, by watching, listening, hearing nature, which in turns builds a picture of what’s happening around you at that time.
I am a full time working wildlife photographer and people can see from my blog I work on my own images and projects, crafting my “craft” each week. I also run. lead and fund my own photo tours and trips. This lets clients see the photographer and get some understanding of their work before they book which is so important today I feel.
Id like to thank both of my clients on their different days, Conner a 15 year young man who attended with his mother to learn about more about his own photography and Brian the following day. I wish you both well in your own wildlife photography and it was nice to meet you both. I have now added more dates that go through until June 2016 for these Spring Tide days. So for more information and what I offer on these days please clink on the following link.
N-Photo is celebrating its 50th issue (now on sale) and in the lightbox section there is an image of mine from the Norfolk Spring tides, which you can see above. Its thousands of waders taking off during a recent spring tide at dawn in Norfolk. Im back there again very soon with clients and cant wait to show them this event in natures calendar. You can see a little sample of this edition on this link.
I have just spent the last two days attending the Hen Harrier Weekend and as I write I’m still slightly overhauled by all the passion and sheer bloody mindedness to save these truly stunning birds I encountered over these two days. This is the second year this event has run now set up by a man I have followed and read his blog and words for many years, Mark Avery. If you end up on his blog without an invite then you’re in trouble as he holds nothing back in his pursuit to see the right thing done for wildlife.
On the Saturday night the setting was the lovely Palace Hotel in Buxton where an evening with speakers and guest had been planned to first raise the plight of these birds and second to gain support for a much needed campaign to save these birds. Upon entering the room before everyone else I saw that each chair had an empty shotgun cartridge on which brought the whole horror and the extent of the killing of these birds home.
The evening for me was inspirational as I sat at the back just taking everything in. The stars of the show where the speakers and at times hairs on the back of my next stood up watching the presentations and sheer determination to save these birds. The following images capture some of the speakers and the people there all doing their best for this amazing cause.
I met Finlay over the weekend, one of the stars for me and a great example to the young . Very powerful message with this film which was shown on the Saturday night. Watch the whole film and you will see the amazing people and the work going into saving this bird known as the “skydancer” Such a lovely film with a great message.
The following images were taken on the second day, the Hen Harrier Day of action and I attended the event in the Goty Valley, in the Peak District a place I know very well. It was a brilliant turn out and powerful and moving speeches from Chris Packham, Mark Avery and members of the Wildlife trusts and RSPB. Very inspiring the whole event was and send a message out that people aren’t going to stand for what is happening on the uplands of the UK to these birds and all the other wildlife that live among them.
What is happening on our uplands throughout the country is truly shocking, the large scale killing, trapping and poisoning of anything with a pulse that landowner deem a threat to the Red grouse and in turn their precious intake of money they make from this commodity given to them in the first place by mother-nature.
Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which damages protected wildlife sites, increases water pollution, and increases flood risk, increases greenhouse gas emissions and too often leads to the illegal killing of protected wildlife such as Hen Harriers.
The Peak District, even though some forty minutes away from my home in the nearby county of Staffordshire I class it as my patch. A place I write often about and that has brought me great peace and beauty since the age of 12 when my late mum would let me catch several buses to get there.
It’s a place I watch Dippers, Watervoles, Red Grouse, Mountain Hares and many more species live out their lives. I personally have seen so much change some over those years and in recent years more so I’d say. The areas I go to photograph Red Grouse, Mountain Hares and other wildlife has changed alot. I often come across gamekeepers or their staff walking the moors with shotguns and dogs and there is always a very uneasy stand off when I appear from nowhere and witness them knowing what they are up to but they soon disappear.
Some I know by sight and don’t bother me many others I don’t and are keen to please their masters by removing anything that does and could interfere with the management of the Red Grouse. The landscape of the Peak District is changing, it’s becoming like a mono-culture, meaning whole areas also most soleless but for the Red Grouse that are protected, and looked after until the men with the big guns come and pay the going rate to walk the same paths I have done for over three decades and shoot and kill the wildlife I photograph and love.
I find it often sickening when I see these people, that have no or little regard for the landscape and its all about “class, privilege, money, wealth, greed” and all the other vile things you were warned not to inherit as you grew by your parents. But for some it’s a badge, it’s a standard to which they can use and manipulate the countryside for themselves.
I don’t have any background in conservation or anything like that what I do have though is a lifetime almost of deep love and passion for wildlife. The camera is just an expensive piece of plastic that allows me to speak for the wildlife and those situations I find myself in. Often as in the case of the Sumatran Orangutans giving them a voice outside of their native country which I have been doing now for a number of years.
I have seen firsthand in many countries from Madagascar, India and Sumatra how difficult conservation is and how it at times is almost impossible to keep all sides happy. Over the years I have been going to Sumatra to help the charities there tell the story I have seen people I trust and respect greatly having had to jump into bed with the enemy to get anything done.
Meaning to sit at the same table as those killing animals with those hoping to save them. I have also witnessed alot that mono-culture I describe where everything is removed for the better of man and his wealth and greed. What is left behind isn’t nature and barely living and so sad.
Those same problems face everyone that is involved in saving these beautiful Hen Harriers against the massive wealth and power of the hunting lobby or grown men with mates in the government as I call them. That wishes to destroy the countryside as we know it and make it into a place for them and them alone.
The RSPB have a wonderful project they have been working on for a number of years to save these stunning birds. Skydancer is a great story and is engaging with many people from young to old and its brilliant. Alongside that is a man I respect for his attitude and caring nature to wildlife and more so these birds, Mark Avery. He is using the anger and frustration displayed by the hunting lobbies and turning it against them with powerful words and retric with his powerful blog posts and campaigning and its slowly working and exposing these rich fools for what and who they are.
The last time I personally saw Hen Harriers in the Peak District was 2011 when a nest was disturbed they say. I know the eggs were crushed as I had been watching the pair on the Goty Valley where they nested. Nobody was ever prosecuted but take it from me and the people I know there the eggs were crushed and destroyed but no evidence of them or the countless other Hen Harriers that go missing each year ever came to light.
This year alone 5 male Hen Harriers have disappeared, there were 6 nests in the whole of England where Scotland has slightly a few more. But as a country its disgraceful and shows us in a shocking light that we can’t live alongside these birds and allow their numbers to increase. Six nests is not progress Natural England, the same number was recorded a decade ago and if it wasn’t for twenty- four hour monitoring of those nest by volunteers then the figure most probably would be zero.
The reason I attended this amazing two day event is because firstly I love wildlife, secondly I class the Peak District as my patch a place I grew up in and it shaped and formed who I am today and gave me alot of the knowledge I have of wildlife today. Thirdly because I truly love the Hen Harriers of which I have been lucky enough to see them in the Peak District and other places in both England and Scotland. Sadly though in recent years I haven’t seen many and this pains me to even write it let alone think about this shocking state of affairs regarding this bird.
And lastly and so very important because this is an attack on everyone that loves and enjoys the wildlife. Gone are the days when everything was killed, stuffed and mounted on boards for visitors to see, gone are the days when we killed for fun. What is happening on the uplands and moorlands in the whole of the UK is about the privileged taking control over the not so privileged in their eyes and exercising that so called power which often is vested within friends in high places and using it to do as they please.
Anything and anyone gets in the way and its removed, killed, poisoned, trapped, hurt, or in the case of those people trying to help sabotage of their funding, their projects and the facts and figures they are producing to the public. The desired effect from the hunting lobby is to slow it all down to such a pace people they think will lose interest and go away and allow them to drive around their managed and mono-cultured estates doing as they please.
The bad news for them is the pressure, the cause is gathering pace, things are changing, powerful people from the hunting lobby are making mistakes they are getting caught out and people are seeing this and capturing that.
Birds don’t just disappear, wildlife just doesn’t vanish, birds of prey are iconic and belong on these moors and so do the Red Grouse, the Mountain Hares and all the other wildlife slowly being murdered and removed so people can blast native, innocent wildlife for sheer fun and that’s it all is. It brings too the surface the murky side of this country I live in, is shows us the dirty underbelly of the class and what is does and how it changes some people born into wealth but are so removed from reality its unbelievable.
The passion, the drive I saw over these two days made me feel proud, proud that people aren’t having this bullshit no longer and things will change. At times the country only favours the rich, the upper class those with Tory friends and donors that’s clear to see but what they cant buy, stop or pay off is peoples passion to see the right thing is done. We are a nation of wildlife lovers at the core and nothing and nobody can ever stop that or use their power and wealth to blow out that cancel of hope. Because as long as you still have hope you have everything and change will and does come.
I salute everybody that fights for wildlife, I respect anyone that cares for wildlife and I’d just like to thank everyone there that wants to help these stunning and truly beautiful birds fight back from the brink of extinction. Thank you to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust that do some much, Thank you to Birders Against Wildlife Crime – BAWC -for a very moving speech and all the work you do in protecting these and many other species of birds and animals. Thanks to Lush also for raising awareness in your stores and the “Skydancer” bath-bomb which is a great idea.
Please take care of these birds and anything I can do as a wildlife photographer then please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org . I wish you all well and thanks again Mark Avery for all you do for wildlife. Keep fighting for the voiceless.
Global Tiger Day is celebrated across the world in recognition of the animal regularly voted the public’s favorite animal. Despite this, the tiger is endangered and under threat of extinction from habitat destruction and poaching. One hundred years ago there were 100,000 wild tigers, now there are less than 3,500 tigers left in the wild. In the last century Asia’s wild tiger range has shrunk by 93%. Shockingly, 40% of that decline has happened in the past ten years.
21st Century Tiger, one of the many charities working hard to save the Tiger, based at ZSL London Zoo, are a unique funding coalition between Zoological Society of London and Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation in Australia which gives 100% of funds it raises, to carefully chosen conservation projects throughout Asia. 21st Century Tiger work with zoos around the world to raise money for wild tiger conservation and channels this money to conservation projects where it can make the most difference. Its sister organisation, Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) handles projects throughout the Russian Far East.
21st Century Tiger currently funds the work of both international and local conservation organisations with a range of projects from education and anti-poaching, to monitoring of the tiger populations in Sumatra, India, Malaysia and through ALTA, in Russia. These important projects address the pressures the tiger faces in today’s world of trade, exploding human population and vanishing forests.
Global Tiger Day was established in 2010 at the St Petersburg Tiger Summit when tiger range countries declared their aim to double wild tiger numbers by 2022. This day is an opportunity to raise funds for wild tiger conservation with 21st Century Tiger and to build awareness of the issues effecting their survival.
On this day please try and support all those that help to keep this beautiful animal alive and to preserve it for future generations. I have had a lifelong love of the Tiger and to think children growing up may in the future not have such love or passion for these animals through not being able to see them in the wild feels me full of great sadness.
Some of the many other charities trying to save these animals are -
They are many charities that help these beautiful creatures; I donate 50% from the sales of my limited edition Tiger prints that go to 21 Century Tiger. Over the next month I will be adding more limited editions to this collection. We can all do something not matter how small that all goes to helping the survival of this species.
If you’d like to photograph these amazing creatures in 2016 then I still have a few places free on my “Tigers of India” - 7 day photography tour. Its an action packed week with two safaris a day in one of the best please in the world to see wild Tigers. All the information and blog posts from many previous trips there can all be seen on this link. Its a magic place to see these Bengal Tigers and one place you will never forget.
Its amazing we have a day set aside for these majestic animals and one they really deserve and need. To all those that work tirelessly to save all Tigers I thank you and to everyone around the worlds that does their bit thank you also. Lets hope Tigers in the wild live on and have a viable future in the wild, many thanks.
A few images from a project that I’m working on at the moment. It’s an old coal mine which dates back to the 18th century but there are reports that coal may have been mined there from as early as the 14th and 15th Centuries. The whole place is protected now and stands empty and decaying, a visual sign of the past. It has been taken over by nature now, and pair of Barn Owls live within the ancient ruins of this building. A whole array of other wildlife shares the site from Kestrels, to Pigeons to many other birds and animals.
As a young child my primary school use to run school trips there and I can remember going on one and going underground which was amazing. It’s part of my local heritage as coal was mined in my hometown for hundreds of years before it all stopped in the mid to late 1980’s. When they all closed it decimated whole communities that were reliant on them for work and income.
I’m hoping to bring you more images from this project over time. In the meantime here are a few images of the owls and kestrels that live alongside each other.
The project as a whole will be one I hope that will show my own heritage within nature with my love of Barn Owls but more importantly my hometown. That since the late 1980’s has had its heart ripped out with all of the industries that once breathed life into this area taken from us resulting in wastelands upon wastelands from the past that nothing ever replaced to this day .Showing the power of nature to recalm and take back what was once theirs and injection life back into a place that died a longtime ago.
The Barn Owl chicks are around three weeks old now. They have been coming out more sand more recently, exercising their wings then they go back into the safety of their nest. They have down feathers still on their backs too, but look really health. Wonderful to see these young and here are a few images taken showing the 18th Century building once an old coal mine, that is now their home
Please support the work of the The Barn Owl Trust the only charity that looks after and cares for our native Barn Owl. One of my favorite living animals these birds need all the help they can get. For information, education, events that help these owls and products, prints you can purchases please see their website, many thanks.
As the season almost comes to an end on the beautiful welsh island of Skomer, it has been a wonderful year with some great encounters and images of the funny and very comical Puffins. Shortly they depart for the ocean and wont come ashore again until late March early April next year as they spend all that time outside of the breeding season at sea, which is truly remarkable.
Being so trusting you can have really wonderful views of these stunning birds but you always have to remember to put them first and to move out of their way should they wish to cross some of the paths where we are allowed to walk on. The following images have been taken over the session and its a stunning place.
Next years one day workshop dates are up now if you’d like to join me. Also next year I am running a 4 day, 3 night trip for up to 8 people to Skomer while we will still on the island and photograph when everyone’s gone home. For the information on this carry on down the page and please contact me if you’d like to join me in 2016.
Skomer Spectacular 3 night Photo Tour.
Join me in summer 2016 for an amazing experience, living on the island of Skomer alongside its wonderful wildlife. A magical wildlife haven located just off the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, 3 miles from Martin’s Haven, and covering 750 acres of habitat. Skomer is the perfect place to see and photograph Razorbills, Guillemots, Seals, Short Eared and Little Owls, Manx Shearwater and the star of the island, the Puffins.
DATES & COSTS
Cost for this three night trip is £480
Due to the Welsh Wildlife Trust not announcing island accommodation availability until October of each year, exact dates are not yet known but your 3 night stay will be during the height of the puffin season in May, June or July.
Everyone is welcome on this amazing trip from birdwatchers to photographers why all levels are catered for by myself. Skomer’s wildlife is very accommodating and everyone will have the chances to make the most of their time on this wonderful island
Please register your interest by contacting me on email@example.com I will then send out a booking form and let you know all the details, and answer any questions you may have.
GROUP SIZE AND ACCOMMODATION
this workshop is limited to 8 guests, staying in the islands only accommodation, a beautiful farmhouse set right in the heart of the island.
Catch the first boat from Martins Haven to Skomer at 9am
After a brief boat ride we arrive on the island and then we have a briefing from the wardens on the island. Then we head to our accommodation, unpack and make ourselves at home and have a warm drink and then head out after lunch to start exploring the island.
DAY 2 & 3
The pattern of event for the next two days will be very similarly maximising your time n the island. From sunrise to sunset and all through the night if you wish as it’s amazing on the island once it goes dark, we are free to come and go on the island and I will be showing you and guiding you to some of the best places on the island at both ends of the day and during the day.
We catch the first boat back to the mainland at 9am.
Over the last several weeks I have had many projects on the go, one such project has been watching a pair of beautiful Pied Flycatchers. These birds visit our shores during the spring and summer months from their wintering home of West Africa and live manly in woodland habitat. Their numbers are quite low and they are on the “amber” list of species by the RSPB meaning they aren’t rare but not common too.
I have wanted to photograph this species of bird in their woodland habitat for many years but I haven’t been lucky enough to find them. This year I had found a pair and they were nesting in a small nest box in a beautiful deciduous wood. These birds are beautiful and I was very lucky to have found a pair. They landed on a number of naturally occurring branches around this nestbox and I have composed them showing their home and these branches they are using with the following images.
Up until this point they were doing really well, both parents feeding and everything looked good. Then around lunch time the following day I was watching another part of the wood where they are hunting the flies when I heard a hissing kind of noise from where the nest box was.
I rushed over and saw the male bird hovering in front of the box and making a noise that I can only describe as an alarm call. Then in a flash something came from the nest box and ran down the front of the box. It was a Weasel with one of the chicks. It happened so quick that I didn’t really have time to do anything or to even think. I did manage to capture a few images of him making off with the chick as the male was hovering to see off the Weasel.
What happened over the next hour and a half after this first attack was that the same Weasel came back several times to get the rest of the chicks. But as soon as I saw him I made a loud hissing noise myself and other noises to warn him off. Sometimes he stopped at the base of the tree, others he was up and on top of the box. Each time he left with nothing and this went on for a while. After the first attack the parent birds returned but were jumpy when going to the box, they seemed to know what had happened and stayed back and didn’t return with any food for those hours after the attack.
I wanted to know what had happened inside the box but I had to stop myself from going to see and investigate because I didn’t want to disturb anything or leave my scent on the box and its not right to interfere with nature. I had done my best making sure that the Weasel didn’t get any more chicks during those many attempts. When I left there had been no sighting of the Weasel for several hours and I really hoped when I returned the following day that the chicks survived and the Weasel had moved on.
Nature is beautiful but at times very cruel I know this well but when you witness it for yourself it is upsetting and I can’t blame the Weasel for wanting to feed his family but as I say when you witness animals being killed by others its not nice and I had watched this pair of Flycatchers for a while now and then this happens.
The following day I returned just after dawn, I waited several hours and no return by any adult. Before opening the box I made the noise of the adult bird and gently tapped the outside of the box and there was no noise or calls from inside. At that point I lifted the lid wearing gloves. The Weasel had gone back when I left by the looks of things and had all of them, very sad. Nature is cruel but that’s the circle of life and I learned that very early in my life but it was a real shame.
I spent most of the morning searching the same wood for another pair as there are nest boxes put up for them. As I was looking I always listen to bird calls, they will always let you know what is around. I know the Pied Flycatchers well and I saw a lone male bird that kept coming to another box. Once at the entrance hole he’d paused and then flew off. I didn’t know if he was preparing his nest for inspection for a female or just looking for another nest box or there was already another female inside.
Then I heard ” Have you seen much?” and I turned around and a bloke was standing there, after a few words I recognized him and he me and we got talking as I had last seen him some five years back. I told him about the box that had lost its chicks and that I was watching this new box.
He informed me that a female was sitting on eggs in the box I was watching and that he was here to ring her. Keith is a member of British Trust for Ornithology and is a ringer in the Staffordshire moorlands area for them and has been for many years. He knew me and my work and passion and so he trusted me with this information and I watched him with great care place a small bag over the roof of the nestbox while blocking the entrance hole. Carefully then he removed the bag from the top of the box and inside was this beautiful female Pied Flycatcher.
I asked if I could take a few photos and it was no problem as Keith put the ring on, checked over the bird and once done he let her go. Soon after she was back in the nest. Amazing to be so close and what luck I’ve had at this site I said to myself. From losing a whole family of chicks to then being so close to one and knowing the BTO ringer for the area.
Another truly beautiful bird the Redstart, a pair are sharing the same deciduous wood as these Pied Flycatchers which is wonderful. They are nesting in a nearby old oak tree not far from the new flycatchers nest. I have watched them too over the last few weeks and now the chicks have fledged and I counted around eight in and around the tree tops.
I’m hoping to get a few images of these but they are providing a difficult little subject to get near because their parents have hidden them away and I don’t want to impact on their lives or their parents. The following images are of that Redstart family.
When you go out taking photos of a project or something you love please just stop, sit down and look around you. You will see some many living beings, so many different images all around you. I love to capture this within my work and all you have to do is think outside of the species you are there for and look further afield and you will see natures beauty all around you.
The following images show some of the other birds that share this amazing deciduous wood alongside these Pied Flycatchers.- Blackcap, Song Thrush, Wren, Great Tit. Also there are a few images of the insects that provide food for these birds, an arty photo of ferns.
Also there is an image of a Harvestman which are beautiful little creatures. Harvestmen don’t have a waist or separate abdomen like spiders as they are often mistaken for them. They are part of the Opiliones family which are fascinating. There are some close up images of Long-tailed Mayfly that are very common in this wood too that just looked stunning. The floor of the wood is littered with the Red Campion flower too the place is so beautiful and full of wildlife once you look around you.
I’m hoping to get some images of the Pied Flycatchers feeding their young as I think they have another week or so inside the nextbox. The Redstart chicks are all around the place, and getting a few images of these are harder as they are hidden away so I will not impact on their lives just for a photograph. Fingers crossed this new pair of Pied Flycatchers manage to rear their young successfully and I will be there to capture it I hope.
If I get lucky I will post the photographs in a future blog post just updating this wonderful project I have been doing. Finding your own subjects and photographing them over time is one of the best things as a wildlife photographer you can do. You learn so much more and you never truly know what you will encounter or see where you have to use your own skills and fieldcraft.
Working like this and taking images “as seen” on the ground and alongside nature is the truest form of wildlife photography in an industry full of set ups and pay as you go sites all producing the same images. I would really recommend working like you see here to anyone that whats to learn more about their own wildlife photography and their subjects, good luck and many thanks.
My one to ones are designed to help you improve in all the aspects of wildlife photography, while learning about the environment and the wildlife that it supports.They are designed to the very highest standard, enabling every participant to get the very best from my photographic knowledge and fieldcraft expertise, where all the locations chosen offer unrivalled photographic opportunities.
The winner of the Cover Star section will see their work used on the cover of Bird Watching (subject to approval), and will win a bundle of photographic accessories. Both winners will have their work showcased in Bird Watching and displayed at Birdfair 2015, and there are mystery prizes in each section, too. Please submit original unedited jpgs – all images must have been taken since the beginning of 2014.
Both winners will have their work showcased in Bird Watching and displayed at Birdfair 2015, and there are mystery prizes in each section, too.
Please submit original unedited jpgs – all images must have been taken since the beginning of 2014.
Send your images by email to firstname.lastname@example.org (but not more than one email, please), by file-sharing services, or on a disc (which won’t be returned so please make a copy) to Bird Watching, Media House, Lynch Wood, Peterborough PE2 6EA.
The deadline to the competition is 31st July 2015 and your image along with others will be displayed at the British Birdwatching Fair where I will be presenting the prize to the winner on the Bird Watching stand. For all the competition information see inside June’s issue of this magazine where they have a special photography section. For full details of this competition then please see the following link .
Wildlife Ethics, some might say what does that mean? does it matter? In an age where we can get whatever we want twenty-four hours a day with little effort. In an age where wildlife is under great pressure we have a duty of care to all living animals to put them first and respect them and so the term “ethics” is born.
I first picked up a DSLR in 2008 and taught myself how to use a camera I twinned this up with my lifelong love of nature. We can all do our bit, we can all care about our impact on those animals, birds and other living creatures we come into contact with and the one word that is at the heart of my wildlife photography and should be everyone else’s is “integrity”.
This article for me has been years in the writing because it’s something I have always felt so strongly about and its one of the things I see some many that take photographs of wildlife getting so wrong time and time again. I have written several articles on fieldcraft, something again I feel so strongly about and the two go hand in hand for me. Since turning professional in October 2009 where I have made my sole income from my wildlife photography I have seen so much change.
Ethics and the welfare of the subject where instilled into me by my late mother, who took me to nearby woods and places where wildlife were as a small child. She learnt me about the circle of life, where my food was from. She taught me always to respect wildlife and listen to the woods, listen to nature and it will give up her secrets. Back then being brought up in a single parent situation my mum couldn’t afford a camera so my trusted 8×40 binoculars where always around my neck or in my bag.
I learnt very early on that once I came across a wild animal it was down to me how long that encounter would last. Meaning if I was nosy, didn’t respect the subject and did lots of moving around then that would impact on the subject’s life and they would disappear back into the undergrowth. So I learnt to become part of the landscape, often pretending I was the animal and I tried to think like them and act like them. Using those principles my encounters lasted longer and so my knowledge became better and better. But the most important thing was that the subject I was with was not disturbed or troubled by my presence and this was the most important thing I learnt and is the foundation to my work today.
I still have a book my mum brought for my eighth birthday presence which I have managed to keep with me all over those years. Nature and those encounters taught me many wonderful things and gave me an amazing understanding of wildlife and empathy for it and life. Growing up my mum had cancer twice and on both occasions nature and those places I visit today helped me cope with seeing my mum waste away before me.
My school years weren’t great, my current day dyslexia can vouch for those troubled years, in-between the home visits I became my mum’s carer and growing up was put on hold. Nature, drawings, Dippers, Barn Owls and others animals and places gave me great peace and it was an escape from seeing my mum dying. I was twelve when she first got breast cancer and it returned three years later when I was fifteen and that time it calmed her life after an amazing battle to beat this for a second time. I became an orphan at fifteen and basically brought myself up from then to the present day. I was looked after by my aunties instead of going into the care system until I joined the army at sixteen.
Those lessons about nature, its beauty and that respect still live inside of me today. I treasure those memories and lessons my mum taught me and that duty of care I speak about to all living creatures. Nature has helped me grow and survive and today I pay respect to that with my photography where each image I capture means something to me.. That’s a bit of background to where my beliefs came from, because to understand something or someone you have to understand the back story and what is behind those images or beliefs because everything started somewhere I believe.
What people take photos of is their business where they take photos is their business what I want and have always wanted since turning pro is the photographer to be honest and have integrity to their work where the welfare of the subject is first. Don’t make the animal do something or perform in order for you to get your images. Tell those that view your image and comment and award you those awards that you then go onto using to say your better than the rest the story and skills used to get the shot , the back story. If you can only shoot in zoos or captive that’s great for you and there’s nothing wrong the problem is with the explosion in photography and people not being honest and put the lives of animals and birds at risk for the image .
I see photographs derived from using flash, set ups , food placed out , animals made to do something for reward or food , animals flying through the air to reach food, where the photographer does not tell what’s the story behind the image. Changing an animals behavior in order to get an image isn’t right and not true wildlife photography in my eyes it really isn’t. I call it image making where you employ props and bait to trick the animal. It seems today wherever wildlife is someone, somewhere will put a hide in, a stick or perch/prop in and charge people for the opportunity to see and take the same photograph almost as the person who first discovered the place which is not wildlife photography.
Animals blinded by flash is a pet hate of mine, how dare the photographer do this to an animal and then tells us ” oh they don’t mind ” All living animals have an iris similar to a humans eye and any sudden change in light will affect the animals balance and movement which causes them a level of stress and disturbance. Until an animal can tell us themselves we have to go with caution and not use flash for the welfare of the subject. You can read an interesting article here to all those that use flash within the world of wildlife photography that defend it and make money from this practice.
Photography brings great joy to many people I see this but we are visitors to their world whatever way you look at this. Treat animals with respect whether they are behind bars or free, always put your subject first. Tell the truth behind the image , don’t impact on the animals life take pride in learning about the subject and its habitat, see how it interacts with its own kind, watch how it finds food and so on.
Applying all of this will benefit you as a person and secondly a wildlife photographer. In a time where there is great pressure on the natural world we need to step back , see the bigger picture and never impact on the subjects life. For many people the weapon of choice now is the camera, use this wrongly and you impact on the lives of animals that have no voice, that won’t be able to report your actions, it will be down to you on the ground to work in a way that gives the animal peace rather than stress by your presence.
Each day I see images and conversations on blogs and social media where everyone calming they have the subject’s welfare at heart then go and use flash or disturb the animal or get the animal to perform for food. It seems to suit at times other times not. I have found over the years that those with the most to hide become the most defensive and practice such methods as I describe here and all become friends together in this ever growing market of set ups where animals are made to do something in return for food or reward.
Diving Kingfisher shots where a fishtank is placed beneath a perch and fish placed in and so the Kingfisher dives into the tank. How many of these images do we have to see before someone asks “what’s behind the image?”. Birds flying at the cameras lens because a bird caller of their call is used and often results in a stressed bird who makes itself look bigger flying or running towards the camera to ward off the intruder it thinks is in its patch when its just a photographer with a caller with zero respect for the bird.
The photographer gets the shot and the praise but says nothing of the back story. There is a massive explosion in set ups being sold to the public where you can choose your background and perch. A photographer finding a subject or area that has been good to them and then the next thing they are selling the place and the wildlife to the public in order to make money is another massive market. I have places I take clients but they are all wild and nothing is prepared.
I then have my own projects and places that I wouldn’t dream of taking paying clients because this just duplicates my images and impacts on the welfare of the subject and their habitat.This is wildlife photography today in the UK where in most parts its better to make money than to think of the welfare of the subject and how your actions impact on that animal your getting to do something for reward as in the background a volley of shutter buttons go off from paying clients. But dare to say anything and you come up against the self-styled cartel which all turn out to be those offering such workshops and taking that easy money off the public.
I have visited places where the wildlife does not like my presence; the Farne Islands is where this Arctic Tern was taken is one such place. They nest right by a path you have to walk on to past these Terns. To see such stress was painful as I put my camera above my head and ran along the path. There were people there disturbing these terns on purpose for a dramatic shot using flash to brighten the underneath but never thinking would that impact on the subject. Ive not been back to the Farnes since, but this is just one of the many many places throughout the UK and abroad you can see the shocking behavior of photographers.
A few recent images from India. Each year I go I always pull away when I can from such disturbance on the Tigers, getting my guide to remove ourselves from the medley of pressure and stress from jeeps the Tigers have to endure. Once you find a Tiger you’re very rarely have that moment to yourself before the army of trophy hunters turn up. On several occasions over the years I have refused to stress the Tiger and follow so we stayed back and in the end the Tiger came back to where we were hidden.
I work ethically and my trips are run this way. If you book with me you get this if you want to be part of a circus then go book with others. It’s all about money there now and those that make the money will tell you its fine and the Tigers don’t mind, but behind that is a vested interest in keeping their money coming in and that lifestyle that has given them a platform to speak from. Over the years I’ve had many crossed words about “ethics” with people I respected and thought they respected the Tigers but when the chips where down all I saw was a selfless attitude to do whatever they wanted where the Tiger is just a cash cow for them now and I will never forget that or forgive them.
The image above is a Bengal Tiger cub following his mum who was disturbed by other jeeps. We where in place first and sitting and watching and witnessed this. On another occasion we were watching a female Bengal Tigress, who we were told is very shy and doesn’t do well seeing jeeps or people. her own mother a few years back was poached and her body has never been seen to this day. We waited for hours alone then a jeep turned up where someone in that jeep was making male Tiger calls. She woke up and moved off and growling all the time.
The list is endless, I have seen photographers in the water outside schedule one protected Water voles placing out a mound of salad leaves to get them to sit on. People walking up to nesting birds on the ground, chasing owls up into the air the list of shocking behavior I’ve seen is never ending and endless. Dead animals placed on the end of a fishing line and the dead animal reeled in as a wild owl watches then comes to take the prey the photographer has tricked so the photographer can get the image. Live bait is also used and the thought of this is just shocking.
So much of the true ethics and welfare of the subject is lost in today’s wildlife photography and this is something I truly feel and see myself. We have a duty of care to all living beings and for me we can all do something to minimize our impact on the countryside. When an animal, birds or any living creature shows clear signs of stress at your presence you have to back off and leave the them alone. Do not carry on adding more stress and more anxiousness to them.
I don’t work with captive animals or sets ups, I’ve never taken this easy route to getting paying clients and securing a regular wage or images making them look wild when they were captive or tame animals. Instead I choose to work “as seen” on the ground using my skills, fieldcraft, passion and ethics. This has brought its own problems over the years in my private life with lack of money and sticking to my beliefs. I lost my home of ten years and my wife because of those beliefs and my stance on set ups, ethics and putting the subject first which created its own stresses.
I had to start my life all over again two years ago but never did I change my ethics or the way in which I work. Its better to be able to stand up and explain every image you took and its story where the importance of that subject was the first thought in my mind. In an age where we all want something overnight you cant rush or kid nature or people and your images and the back story to how you got the image are the most important things behind the welfare of the subject and come under the banner “ethics”
These are my thoughts in an industry where for alot of wildlife photographers a front cover or an award or how to win one is more important than the welfare of the subject and the mess you left behind once you go home. Ethics, fieldcraft should be the first thing you develop before passing yourself off as a wildlife photographer, something I am and take great pride in and my work. Be true to yourself and your work is something I’d rather die than give up and that’s my thoughts on ethics.
Ask what you can do for nature rather than what nature can do for you and who cares what award you’ve won or who has given you a free coat or tripod, if you do this for a living or just as a hobby you have to have that duty of care and integrity otherwise you have nothing.
Those lessons I learnt from my late mum are how I judge my encounters with nature today, not all will have such a story to tell or lean on but what I would say is everyone can put wildlife first, don’t change a thing that you see, just sit, watch and listen and nature will give up its secrets around you it truly will. The results will be a better encounter, an ethical image but more importantly a relaxed, happy and free to leave subject that has allowed you into their life for however long it lasts.
This has been a very personal account of where my love of wildlife started, at the same time where my own ethics where born out of without me really doing at the time. If anyone wishes to talk further about this then please feel free to call me or email me.
Thank you for reading this article and I hope in some way it helps you understand we can all apply ethics in some sort of way to our own wildlife photography whoever we are and for whatever reasons you take photographs of wildlife and we can all make a difference. Thank you to the nurses from Macmillan Cancer care for making my mums last days as comfortable as you could. I have donated prints to this charity that can be seen on the following link, many thanks.