Archive for 2011

A Beautiful Day

Filed in Advice On Wildlife, Places Of Interest, Wildlife on Jul.15, 2011

An early start to photography the Red Grouse this week turned into a lovely close encounter with a family of these iconic moorland birds.  I begin my ascent in the dark, where your visibility is lessened in the absence of any natural light, as the sun hadn’t risen above the horizon yet. Having lost your clear vision heightens your other senses, your ears become better at hearing, more in tune as I call it with the environment, your sense of smell increases, as every step you take is carefully placed. You pick out a prominent feature in the direction you are travelling and focus to the left or right of that subject and that’s how you see and navigate yourself in the dark.

Reaching the plateau the ascent levels out a little, it is a welcome sight and what greets you is miles, upon miles of rocky outcrops littering the moorland.  Its home to specialized animals that have evolved and adapted to living in this hostile environment.  They live through the most testing weather conditions that Mother Nature can through at them.  On this day though the sun was rising over the valley below, slowly warming and filling the place with light. With that nature awakens, birds begin to call, distance calls, close calls echo around the place and for me it is truly the best time of the day as everything begins to wake up around you.

It’s one of the best times to photograph wildlife as the light is softer, less harsh and adds so much to an image. The wildlife can be more trusting at this time of day and you must never betray that trust in order to get an image. If you use your fieldcraft skills, watch and listen and respect the subject, they will settle once that trust is gained. You then can carry on always mindful of your advance and approach and the welfare of the subject. If the subject shows signs of distress, is defending their territory at your presence then you’ve gone to far.

Once the sun had come up, the colours of the moorland popped out, turning a black and white landscape into a colourful one, blooming with colours all warmed by the sun.  I saw a few Grouse in the distance, their bubbling call so unique within the bird world. In the distance I saw a lone Mountain Hare, feeding in their brown summer coats. With the onset of winter these hares change to their white winter coats, which makes them almost invisible within this landscape. This is very important as there are many raptors that patrol these areas, so they have perfectly adapted to their habitat with the changing seasons and different weather, how wonderful nature is.

Between myself and the hare there was open ground, so I used the lay of the land to advance. The wind was in my favour, blowing away any slight noise as I placed my feet down on the ground, at the same time blowing my scent away.  Hares have an amazing sense of smell and hearing so the pursuit of such animals is fruitless if your fieldcraft is poor and you don’t use what’s around you to your own advantage here in the Peak District.

Once I was happy, I managed to see two, as the other was hugging the ground feeding, I let a few shots off and they stood up on their hind legs to see. I stopped everything, turned myself into a low-lying bush, and this image below was that first contact I had with these two hares. They had heard my camera noise but just couldn’t make out where it was from, I took a few more slow, single shots and they settled and carried on feeding. While this was going on I could hear the distinctive calls of Red Grouse in the distance so I said goodbye to the Mountain Hare and advanced towards the calls.

I always try to move slowly, all the time watching and listening as I always say that nature will let you know what’s around you, she can also be your first indication that something is wrong as alarm calls can ring out at any time, letting other animals know there is danger around, more so you’ve been spotted, if so stop, go to ground and wait. I did that here behind this set of rocks when this Red Grouse came from nowhere. I watched, perfectly still, hoping my slight movement hadn’t disturbed this Grouse as I was really close.

I captured the bird yawning, it made no sound what so ever, unlike their call.  Afterwards the grouse came from the protection of the rocks and picked away at the heather shoots. The light was amazing and lit up the colours of these beautiful birds really well, the background was the valley below, some 600m beneath me. With such close encounters involving a wild animal going about its life you feel your heart rate greatly increase, you go into auto mode, trusting the settings and routine you’ve practised many times before along with the element of luck on your side.

I stayed put among these large rocks and within no time a whole family of Red Grouse came out from cover. Mum, Dad, and several excitable youngsters.  Mum and Dad were constantly on guard, watching for any sign of predators, then they’d disappear back to the safety of the stones and rocks.

I had a privileged ten minutes watching this family, the youngsters all happy to be out from cover, their tireless energy on show, up and down on these rocks, flapping and exercising their wings building strength and confidence. It was really funny to watch at the same time very enduring to witness.  They all started to walk off, coming down from the high vantage points of the rocks, they slowly disappeared from view and that was the last I saw of that family.

A beautiful encounter among this stunning landscape, where you can see no one the whole time you are there, giving you a sense of true wilderness, something I love to be among, photographing the beautiful and stunning wildlife.  Sometimes that beauty is hard for me to put into words.  I hope this recent slideshow of a few beautiful moments I captured in the wild, put together and arranged alongside the tempo of this music will help.

 


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Precarious Start In Life

Filed in Animal Behaviour, Wildlife, Workshops on Jul.08, 2011

Fraught with danger, and extremely hazardous, it is the precarious life of many young animals as they now turn from a dependent youngster to an adult during this time of the year.  The countryside is awash with animals, fresh from the protection of the homes built by experienced parents several months earlier. High pitched calls litter the river banks and woodlands, as birds, and mammals beg for food from their hard pressed parents who spend all of their time being attentive to their off spring.

Witnessing these special moments can be some of the most enduring moments within mother nature, as we watch the high level of dependence unfold before our very eyes, youngsters mimicking their parents, learning the key skills that will hopefully keep them alive in the cruel and often unforgiving world they are about to enter.

Over the last couple of months when time has allowed I have been watching a few of my favourite species, one being the Dipper and the other the Puffin. At the several different sites I’ve been visiting this year, some Dippers have nested early, others quite late and most have been doing really well. During the many trips to these sites either alone or with clients on my ever popular Dippers of the Dales workshop and one to one’s, they’ve been very active.

In most cases the Dipper nests really early in the year around mid to late March/April time. If the first brood is successful the same birds try for a second brood later on, one of the major problems then though is the water height of the river. If it drops the Dippers are forced to abandon the second nest as they follow the river downstream. This has happened this year with one pair of Dippers, where the river has dried up, leaving small pockets of water in which to feed in.

Over the last several weeks we’ve had a good amount of rain and at other sites where the Dippers have nested and were on their second brood several chicks have died due to rising water levels.  The nests where sighted just under waterfalls and as the level of water rose, the power of the waterfalls have sweeped a large part of the nests away leaving 2 chicks where there had been 4 youngsters to each set of parents.

This left these small, vulnerable birds homeless and alone on the river bank as the parent birds struggled to find and feed them.  The life of a Dipper chick is a dangerous one, as the power of the water calms many of them, then there are the many predators also.  With a high mortality rate among their number nature has evolved these birds to have large broods and sometimes two throughout the breeding season but still only a few survive the dangerously insecure and perilous journey they take to become adults.

The young don’t have the trademark white bib yet, instead their plumage blends into their habitat amazing making these birds really hard to spot among the riverbank vegetation.  The young I have watched that have lost their home have been well looked after, where the parent birds have hidden the youngsters the best they can in darkened areas of the riverbank, so fingers crossed these last few survive.

I have made a short film just to illustrate just how small and vulnerable this Dipper was, turfed from his nest a little too early due to the nest being damaged through rising water levels. Even this young their “Dipping” behaviour can be seen which was so wonderful to witness.  The last remaining Dipper chicks on my last visit had moved further down river, following the flow of water and witnessing how attentive their parents were, so it all looks good for their survival fingers crossed, its one of the most precarious starts though within the natural world with a very high mortality rate.

My other firm favourite also shares that most precarious of beginnings into the natural world and that is the clown of the sea; the Puffin.

I have visited the island of Skomer many times this year and never tire of seeing these beautiful, comical and funny seabirds that come to this little island, off the coast of Wales to breed and rise their young for a short time each year, before returning back to the perilous stormy seas of the Atlantic. They come ashore early to late March and reaffirm their bonds after meeting their partners.  Those that have lost or don’t have a partner then set out on the journey to find one as thousands of these birds come ashore during this time.  Its a frantic time, lots and lots of action, but everything settles down and then they start raising their young in the underground burrows on the island.

My last visit there was this week on a one to one, after a bright start the heavens opened and we both got really soaked as Skomer can be an unforgiving place when the weather changes. I wanted to try and convey the changing weather conditions that were approaching the island with this image below. It shows the incoming storm and a pair of Puffins displaying a resolve to sit the storm out by staying put as the Puffin here in the foreground clearly demonstrated to us.

If you were a script writer that specialized in comedy you’d find it hard to write the script for these birds as they are just so funny to watch, and I am convinced they love non-threatening human company, once you win their trust and keep that distance, you can enjoy unrivaled humour where I’m often seen laughing as I take photos of these birds. Then occasionally they let out a long moan like call, which is their own way of communicating with each other, again it’ll have you in stitches as its unplanned and often unannounced when it happens.

As it rained we scrambled to cover our cameras and were treated to a few and brief sightings of Pufflings, the name given to baby Puffins.  Almost Jackdaw like in appearance with no colour to them.  These birds slowly made their way to the edge of the burrows in which they had just spent the previous several weeks living in underground.  Really nervous at first, with an adult bird there with them, as a show of support for the appearance.

I could see as I watched they were nervous of which they had good reason as large Gulls always patrol the skies over where these birds breed.  Alot of the time the Puffins get robbed of their catch, or even worse the Gulls take their chicks ,so extreme caution is always best. When this chick came out above, the adult bird seemed to be fussing over him, being really attentive towards the young Puffling, eventually he settled down and did a few wing exercises then went back underground. Lovely to see the interaction between the parent and youngsters, very enduring to see and watch.

At another entrance to a burrow a Puffin was cleaning as the rain came down and suddenly the young Puffin appeared, standing a little further out from the burrow, watching his parent clean.  Their beaks will grow over time and their colourless appearance is in stark contrast to that of the adult birds.  In a few weeks all the Puffins along with their young will leave for sea and not return to land for the next 8 months.

The precarious life of an young Puffin is beset with difficulties, fraught with danger in the waters of the Atlantic where they’ll spend most of that time, eating, sleeping out a sea.  It has to be one of the toughest existence’s within the natural world I can think of, where only the strongest will survive and return to land after that period at sea.

Fingers crossed these two make it, many thanks to all my clients who have seen these amazing birds with me over the last several weeks, I know many have learned alot more not only about wildlife photography but also the behaviours of these two charismatic birds, many thanks.

 

 

 


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Madagascar Lemurs and Whales Photo Tour

Filed in Photography Tips, Places Of Interest, Wildlife, Workshops on Jul.05, 2011

Photograph some of the most unique and endangered wildlife in the world as we explore the amazing country of Madagascar. There can be few places on this earth that offer us such unique, diverse and extremely beautiful wildlife as on the island of Madagascar. From the beginning of time nature has evolved, shaped itself and adapted to the different and changeling environments it lives and breeds in, carrying on the circle of life.

The island of Madagascar is one on its own, so many different and unusually wildlife, most of which are only found on this one island and nowhere else throughout the world. Next year I will be leading my own photographic tour to this amazing island, working with the best guides, through a trusted and results proven specialist travel company; World Primate Safaris. The trip can be viewed here

The trip is for 6 clients maxim, 2 clients minimum, where you will get the very best advice, and help from myself as we travel together as a group witnessing the marvelous wildlife this island has to offer.

Trips of this magnitude could not be undertaken without real help, as with all the photo trips I run myself, I work with the best guys on the ground offering the very best service, where the logistics are all taken care of.  With the planning of the trip organised from a wildlife photographers eye for wildlife photographers maximising the best light condition’s, offering the best chances of capturing outstanding images. So I’m pleased to announce that for this trip I will be working together with World Primate Safaris to deliver this amazing photo trip which I have had planned from early 2011.

The fourth largest and one of the most diverse islands of the world, Madagascar is unique because of its diversity of species. It is known as the “8th continent”. Brimming with endemic fauna and flora and with a diverse culture, geography and climate, you will never be disappointed when travelling around this amazing country. One moment you can be driving through pristine rainforest filled with lemurs and chameleons and the next you can be out on the savannah plains or white sandy beaches.

The Worlds wild population of Humpback whales migrate to the waters of Madagascar to give birth and nurture their young between June and September, so this is a great time for whale watching off the east coast. A major factor to the timing of our photo tour as we spend time watching and photographing this unique event in nature’s calendar.

Madagascar is encircled by a variety of beautiful beaches and islands from the south west coastline of Ifaty to luxury islands, giving the traveler the perfect opportunity to break up their itinerary with some days of relaxation on the beach and with our trip some amazing whale watching! The perfect end to your Madagascar photo trip.

The BBC series this year was an amazing programme showing the beauty of this island at the same time letting us see the truly amazing animals that have adapted to living on this island and nowhere else on earth.  The following short clip from this programme gives you an idea whats waiting, where the photography opportunities will be everywhere.

http://youtu.be/npe6_vX_ziQ

World Primate Safaris are specialists in Madagascar travel and this photo trip is fully ATOL protected for your complete peace of mind. Working with the very best local guides in Madagascar, all the key ingredients for an amazing trip.

Highlights of This Amazing Trip;

Visit the best places in Madagascar to see and photograph the island’s exotic and endangered wildlife, including ring-tailed lemurs, Verreaux’s (dancing) sifaka, indri, mouse lemurs, and a colourful array of bird species, chameleons, geckos, frogs, and much more.

As a tour designed for keen photographers (of all skill levels) and serious wildlife enthusiasts,we’ve carefully selected only the very best places for wildlife photography. Many of the animals we’ll see are remarkably tame and approachable, allowing for up-close photos and an incredible wildlife experience.

Travel as a small group and receive one-to-one instruction from professional wildlife photographer Craig Jones. Our accommodation throughout the journey will be hotels/bungalows and eco-lodges. All will have electricity for charging batteries ,en-suite bathrooms with hot water, and a daily laundry services.

For more information on this photo tour to Madagascar then please contact myself here or Shaun Stanley, World Primate Safaris. All flights can be booked through Shaun also depending on where in the world you’ll be joining us, a group flight from the UK is what we plan on doing for clients here.

To keep upto date with all the photo trips, shows, talks, exhibitions and my charity work I’m doing over the next 12 months subscribe to my monthly newsletter which can be found on the front page of my website in the bottom right hand corner. To those that book on this trip I can promise you a wonderful experience with some amazing photographs, I look forward to showing you this island many thanks.


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Mull-Sculpted By Nature

Filed in Photography Tips, Places Of Interest, Workshops on Jun.27, 2011

Mull is a magical, raw, unplanned and thought provoking place where you can see and view beautiful wildlife. Red Deer roam the hills, Eagles soar over the skylines, Seals bask on exposed banks and Otters frequent the many bays and inlets along Mulls coastline. Almost every other telegraph pole there’s a lone Buzzard sitting, acting as a physical welcome to the island.  Mull’s magic derives from its special blend of mountain and coastal landscape which forms such a tremendous variety of habitats that offer excellent opportunities for wildlife.

For me the most memorable aspect of being on this beautiful island is viewing the abundance of wildlife against the entrancing background of tranquil loch shores and beautiful woodlands, amongst the architecture of amazing mountains, with the mornings being the best to see this island awaken.

I’ve just returned from a wonderful week with clients on my twice yearly photo tour I call “Magic of Mull.  The Isle of Mull lies on the west coast of Scotland and has a breathtaking coastline of 300 miles.  The climate is a mixture of rain and sunshine and from the moment you step onto this beautiful island the wildlife is everywhere and the scenery is stunning.  Our base for our 6 day adventure was the picturesque village of Tobermory, made famous by the children’s BBC programme Balormory, with its brightly painted buildings. The hotel is overlooking the harbour of Tobermory and facing out to Calve Island and the sound of Mull, which can be seen in the below image, on one of the many sunny days we had there during our stay on Mull.

Mull’s climate is extremely unpredictable and at any time of year you should be prepared for a wide range of conditions. The weather during our time on the island was good and kind to use. There were days that were overcast where we had rain but on the whole the weather was good.  After meeting everyone at the port of Oban, we took a short ferry ride over to Mull and then went on to our hotel that we were staying at for the week.  We had coffee overlooking the harbour and headed straight out for the day.

The pattern of events for each day were consistant, ensuring that clients get the best out of their time on Mull.  An Early start to get into place at one of the Otter sites and hopefully catch them as they wake and start to fish, head back to the hotel for our breakfast at around 8am,then collect our packed lunches and head out for the day.  The wildlife on Mull is generally accessible with the few exceptions of specialized birds along with the rare and legally protected birds that are not to be disturbed or approached as they are very senstive to disturbance.

When I have worked alone on Mull in the past I have stayed in one place for some time, getting a feel of the place, getting contacted as I call it.  But while leading a tour here for clients you have to juggle the need to see the wildlife along with the time constraints, as alot of the wildlife can be viewed only a short distance from the roads, which for me is ok but the way in which I work is working the land so to speak and this is something I was very keen to show the group.

As a group we covered both methods of approach this during our stay, where everyone enjoyed the fieldcraft tips and advice.  I also demonstrated how rewarding it can be on many levels when you blend into the environment, leaving the safety of the car and try to become part of the subjects world, thinking about wind direction, movement, in readiness to take the shot if you come across a chance and other fieldcraft tips and examples I showed and demonstrated. On the first day everyone had seen and captured some lovely images including the very shy male “dog” Otter that would show every so often.

During our time on Mull I had organised two great trips on consecutive days, one was three hours watching White Tailed Sea Eagles on one the Lochs and the other was a full days trip to the Treshnish Isles, a designated site of special scientific interest.

On the White tailed Eagles trip we sailed into the territory of a pair of these magnificent birds.  Due to the White tailed Eagle being so protected and looked after, close up views of these birds is almost impossible so this tip offers that chance.  We had a Gull escort to the site as they dived for bits of bread that the crew threw out for them.  There was no noise as the engine was stopped and a lone dead fish was thrown out.  The first real sign the Eagle was coming the Gull’s behaviour changed and they disappeared knowing this beautiful, massive bird was coming our way.

The sheer size of these birds becomes apparent when they soar past you, with a ten foot wing span they were truly stunning to see so close. They soared past, then in a flash dived for the fish, the whole thing was over in seconds. The whole group loved the trip and seeing these birds so close was a wonderful experience for them all.  The birds are truly wild and this trip has been passed by all the governing bodies that work to protect this bird with their ongoing work.

To see this behaviour without the fish placed out for them could take days of waiting around etc, so deep down for me from a wildlife photographers point of view it was too staged to pass the photographs off as a truly wild moment captured with my time and fieldcraft, but never the less a great way to see these birds and I can highly recommend the trip.

We visited the small islands of Staffa and Lunga the next day.  Staffa is a beautiful, uninhabited island which is home to hundreds of seabirds and set within waters teeming with marine life.  The island is best known for its magnificent columns of rock. The best place to see this is in Fingal’s Cave. Lunga is one of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s and it is teeming with other birds too like Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals.

The name Staffa is thought to come from an old Norse word meaning wooden building staves, which look similar to the islands basalt columns.  The name is a reminder of the region’s Viking history.  People have marvelled at Staffa’s columns for centuries.  As you approach the island from the sea, you can see these columns of rock and the very impressive cave known as Fingla’s Cave.

According to legend, Fingal was a Gaelic giant who fell out with a Ulster giant and in order to fight Fingal, the Ulster giant built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland.  When the causeway was destroyed only the two ends remained, one at Staffa and the other at the giants causeway in Antrim.  The columns you can see today are the remains of this causeway.

Fingla’s cave named after this giant is the most impressive site on this small island, as you enter the smell if excrement is very strong as nesting birds and bats litter the small ledge and over hangs as you slowly walk in using the path people have used for centuries.  The shapes in the rocks formed by the sea over time are amazing, they look like they have been made by an experienced stone mason rather than the force of mothernature.  A great place and one I would recommend a visit to.

One of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s, and teeming with other birds too, Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals is Lunga the second small island we visited that day.  It was a small journey to this stunning little island thats home to my favourite seabird the charismatic Puffin.

We spent over two hours on this lovely little island and from the moment you scale the landing steps and head up onto the flat top of the island the Puffins are not far from you.  Their calls can be heard first before they show themselves from the burrows and vegetation hiding them away from view.  We all got into place, settled and let the birds relax and over time if you sit still and don’t make too many movements the Puffins accept your presence and go about their lives around you which is wonderful to witness and watch.

As I was watching these birds and enjoying their interactions with each other this little fellow landed not far from me.  I was handholding the 70-200mm lens as he was close, he seemed to enjoy the company before flying off and back out to sea. The noises in the background are the other birds nesting along this cliff, Fulmars and Razorbills.

I wanted to portray the habitat the Puffins were nesting in, at the same time capturing one in flight with a wide angled lens to give you a sense of the world they live in. The images below shows the cliff and this coastal habitat on Lunga.

It is one of the best places in the UK to see Puffins that’s for sure, close up views, Puffins going about their lives all in close proximity of you as long as you stay still and make little or no movement.  Two great days and two very good day trips and the rest of the week flew by as we all concentrated on photographing Otters.

Each day we saw the Otters fishing far from shore among the different Lochs on Mull.  The shot the group wanted was a close up of this beautiful mammal and towards the end of the week and even on the last day those wishes were granted with a mixture of luck and being in the right place at the right time.  We were able to watch the same male Otter that had given us the slip most of the week, catch larger fish and come ashore not to far from where we were lying in wait.

He came ashore slightly higher up the beach at first, dispatching the fish he’d caught quickly then heading back out to sea to fish.  We thought that would be it as once Otters have had a good feed they tend to lie up somewhere for a sleep and this was late afternoon. But lady luck came again and he came back to shore with a larger  fish.  He ate the fish and that was the last we saw of him but a perfect end to a great week, underlining the sentence “you only get out what you put in” and the whole group did very well all week with the early starts and long days.

We were all sad to leave the island on the Friday but everyone had some great memories of this magical island sculpted by nature. A big thank you to all the group for your company during our time on Mull.  I hope I helped you all in seeing nature and learning more about her beauty while learning and showing you real and key camera skills that work on the ground.

I will be back on Mull in October during which time the Red Deer rut will be in full flow along with the amazing autumnal colours and snow capped mountains.  I have a few places left so to see the trip or book please click here. We stay in the same hotel over looking the bay of Tobermory, I always try to get clients the best place in which to stay as after a long day in the field comfort and good food is key.


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Nature Always Surprises

Filed in Places Of Interest, Wildlife, Workshops on Jun.12, 2011

Nature is a wonderful thing, her beauty, the innocence of the subject, and once you are among her you just don’t know what you’ll see or what will turn up as you walk the countryside.  Over the last several weeks I have been visiting some of my popular sites within the Peak District, at the same time running my successful Spectacular Skomer one day workshops, where I show the beauty of nature whilst at the same time learning clients many things they take home with them to improve their own work and seeing the beautiful Puffin up close.

With British Summer time now well and truly here, those early starts for that dream light that all wildlife photographers wish for, start really early and sometimes when working late the night before it has paid to just sleep for a few hours as the new dawn is never far away. I normal meet the client(s) before dark and then we head out on the chosen day they have picked.  In this case it was the amazing and beautiful landscape of the Peak District.  A place I have visited for many years, building up a unique knowledge of the wildlife here but each visit I still get surprised at witnessing something new, such is nature, you just never know what will happen and you have to be among her beauty to get those amazing encounters.

Here the sun broke the horizon as we walked onto the moorland, nothing prepares you for that moment, the light, the freshness of the morning air and the orchestral of birdsong is magical, just pure heaven.  We headed up as the sun was breaking through the clouds, fighting for a clear path in which to warm the moors below. We both set up and captured a few images of the Curlew, a large bird so at home on these landscapes, such is their wonderful camouflage.  Your only real indicator they are around is their piercing loud, a single note call, which cuts through the morning air.  Here he was flying past in the morning light, I managed a nice image of this wonderful bird as he was calling.

After that first few moments of beautiful light the clouds started to consume the beautiful light we had seen rise that morning, the temperature also drops a touch at that time of morning.  The landscape of the Peak District is full of different and very diverse wildlife, from beetles to birds, it really has something for everyone. Our aim was to see the moorland birds- Curlews, Golden Plovers, Dunlins, Red Grouse and fingers crossed the Short eared Owls that nest on these moors.

We were greeted by a pair of Golden Plovers, a typical moorland bird, nesting among the thickets and heather of this habitat.  They had young nearby so we just sat at a distance and watched ,staying low presenting them with little or no disturbance by our presence, they were calling each other as the female was in one part and the male in another part. Their call really stands out and it was an amazing moment as my client, Ian, on a one to one wanted to see this iconic moorland bird and here we were among them.

When the male Golden Plover had finally broken cover to gain a high vantage point to survey his territory the cloud had filled the sky and hid that beautiful sunlight as seen with the first image.  The background is one of the high peaks covered in mist and low lying cloud. We had some wonderful encounters with this pair of charismatic birds as we blending into their habitat and using fieldcraft as the key element.  The highlight of the day was an amazing 45 mintues with a pair Mountain Hare in their summer coats, going about their lives and feeding among the fresh shoots of vegetation.

Outside of Scotland, the Peak District is the only place to have a good population of these beautiful mammals, normally seen in their pure white coats.  Seeing them in their fluffy Summer coats was a real bonus as they fed on the fresh young shoots after some of this area had been carefully burnt.

Very shy and elusive the Mountain Hare blends so well into their habitat, the prevailing wind was our best friend here as it was blowing our scent away allowing us to both slowly and carefully advance to where this pair where feeding.  Even with the strong wind they where very alert, with this image above I tried to captured just how hard it was to see them at the same time capture a little of their character.  They settled a little and carried on feeding and moving among the burnt heather treating us both with a window into their lives as we hugged the ground for what little cover we could use to hide behind and use to blend in as we watched this amazing mammal.

The background added a real different element to our images, very different to snow or heather as the different colours contrasting with the stark blacks of the burnt heather.

Heather is kept young and vigorous by controlled burning, if left unburned it eventually grows long and reduces in its nutritional value. During this process of burning the heather roots are left undamaged and the whole process ‘shocks’ the heather seed lying in the ground into germinating quickly. The burning cycle creates a pattern of different aged heather, the oldest provides cover for the Grouse and other birds, and the new shoots provide succulent food for birds, mammals and sheep. A skillfully burnt moor will have a mosaic of heather and other moorland plants of differing ages offering a rich variety of wildlife to this special habitat.

We were treated to one of those beautiful moments, spending this long with such a shy animal.   I have seen and photographed them in Winter, when I run one to ones here in the same location, but it was a real bonus to see them in their wonderful Summer coats. We had a great day so thanks to my client, Ian, who was amazed also at what the whole day delivered for him and I wish you well.

The next day it was onward to Skomer where I was meeting other clients for my Spectacular Skomer one day workshops, on this amazing island off the beautiful Welsh coast, a stunning part of the UK.  The weather can change without warning off this coastline, I have been caught on Skomer as the heavens opened and the cloud base dropped, it can be very testing.  Thankfully for my clients it was sunny and very warm as we met early and waited for the first crossing to the island on that sunny morning.

We were the first boat onto the island, the BBC Springwatch team were there all week broadcasting live each evening from the island, so there seemed alot more people around. After the briefing you get from staff on the island, going through information to help your short stay on the island, we then headed to a favourite spot for Puffins.  Before the main crowds come you can have a good hour or so here among these “clowns of the sea” as I have always called them, a name that’s becoming quite popular now.

It was a real warm day with bright sunshine making the job of exposing for the Puffins plumage a little difficult. I always try to show and tell people to work with what ever light you have or haven’t got and use it to your own advantage.  We arrived at one of the most popular spots for the Puffins and settled down to watch at first, looking for flight patterns, their different ways in which they land and quickly dive down their burrows before the ever present danger of the Gulls who mob them of their catch, as the image below clearly shows.  This gives you a good idea of the general movements in a given area and helps with your photography.

In this area there is a large cliff with many different birds nesting on its ledges and I was watching a pair of Fulmars, one bird kept flying off and around in circles, soaring on the air thermals, coming out from the darken area of the cliffs and flying into the direct sunlight, right over my head and then diving down towards the sea then back up onto the nest, amazing behaviour to watch and capture.

Effortless flying at its very best with these beautiful birds that are part of the same family as Albatross, Shearwaters and Petrels. These birds nest and breed in colonies on ledges and steep coastal cliffs, sometimes in burrows on inaccessible slopes.  They are masters at exploiting the air currents to travel miles on and hunt all the time conserving their own fuel reserves.  Sharing the same cliff ledges are Guillemots, Gulls and the most handsome member for me of the Crow family: the Chough, jet black with bright red beak and legs, its a strking looking bird that gave us a little fly past just enough for us to see this handsome bird at close quarters.

There is so much wildlife on this small island of Skomer, in each direction you look you’ll see something different, from Puffins,Gulls, to Rabbits.  The different Gulls, all ranging from the small Herring Gull to the governor of them all, the large Black backed Gull all nesting in the own places, higher up on the island and away from the coast cliffs.

In the centre of the island their is a good population of Short eared Owls but during our visit we didn’t see them, but this little chap turned up and became quite a star during the week, posing really well as people walked past this section of rock this Little Owl had made home. So enduring to see and watch a lovely looking Owl, with real character for its size.

The island, the sea around it all teaming with wildlife giving this island its special status as a crucial island for breeding birds within the UK. The sea is rich with life and having dived this area myself before I know of the riches under its surface. This image I took shows the frailness of the whole area as Skomer and the surrounding islands are on one of the major shipping lanes around our coastline, carrying vital oil/fuel to the nearby refineries up and down this stunningly beautiful coastline. 

Thank you to all my clients who have attended my Spectacular Skomer trips, I look forward to meeting those that have booked for the trips in the next month.


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Sumatran Orangutans Last Call

Filed in Charities on Jun.02, 2011

Last chance to sign up for a place on our Sumatran photography and conservation adventure please view the trip here. This itinerary is in association with the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) and a proportion of the cost will be donated to the charity to allow it to continue its vital conservation work with the Orangutans and their habitat in Sumatra. This trip is designed to give you a taste of life in the jungle: trekking and camping in the forest, taking part in an elephant trek, and with the highlight being the chance to see the beautiful Orangutans in their forest home.

This charity is dedicated to the conservation of Sumatran Orangutans and their forest home, where each person on this photo-tour will directly be helping the Orangutan and their habitat, with money from each person booked onto this trip going to the Sumatran Orangutan Society, whose work is to help protect and conserve this area for the future of our closest relative. The principal focus of this photo tour will be the Orangutan, capturing them within their natural habitat, looking for behaviours to capture and so on, as we visit some of the most magnificent forests on Earth, which are also the domain of many other beautiful and stunning animals and birds, where some only live in this part of the world and nowhere else on the planet.

Across the Orangutans entire range, conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is occurring on a massive scale, logging continues even within protected areas, and planned road networks threaten to fragment the habitat of the last viable populations. These factors are responsible for the loss of over 80% of Orangutan habitat over the last 20 years. We have to save this amazing animal and during this tour I will also be photographing the story of the local people, the palm plants and conveying with moving and powerful photography what is happening to these amazing forests where I will be reporting back for SOS.For any further information in the trip then please email me here, for the detailed itinerary then click here or visit Different Travels website many thanks.


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Tigers of India

Filed in Places Of Interest, Wildlife, Workshops on May.26, 2011

It only seems like five minutes since I was in the Tiger reserve of Ranthambhore in India and twelve months have passed since those beautiful encounters with the Royal Bengal Tiger last April in the year of the Tiger.  I have just returned from 8 days there with clients on my Tigers Of India photo tour, where we spent some amazing moments with these beautiful creatures.  Everyone’s wish was to see these animals at the same time and maybe capture them on camera and that’s exactly what they all did during our time in the magical country of India, a firm “Welcome Back  greeted us all.

After the early evening flight on Saturday from Heathrow, Terminal 5, British Airways, we arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning where our air conditioned transport was waiting to drive us the 370km drive to Ranthambhore and our accommodation on the outskirts of the National Park.  We drove through many cities and small towns that were a cauldron of beeping horns, mopeds, cows and children and tuk-tuks, real India all around us.  We stopped off to fresh up, a cup of hot, sweet chai and a bite to eat, before setting off on our path to Rajasthan, the vast state of kings that shares a border with Pakistan.  The colours of the buildings are brilliant, bright colours that come zinging out of the deserts, simple clay houses all painted iridescent pink, domed temples are blue and people clad in colourful clothing right the way through to the village elders its an amazing drive and one where you see the real India.

The Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is the single largest expanse of Dry-Deciduous Forest left intact in India, such forests were found all along the North and Central Aravalis but in the last few decades they have been badly degraded and right now this Tiger Reserve is their last strong hold.

Its one of the best place’s in India to see the mighty Bengal Tiger, one of the most stunning, handsome and awe-inspiring creatures on earth. The Ranthambhore National Park, which is a part of the much larger Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, is a Project Tiger reserve; it lies in the Sawai Madhopur district of eastern Rajasthan. It is right now the only forest reserve in Rajasthan state and in the entire Aravali hill ranges where tigers exist. There are seven ‘old’ gates within the national park and twice a day we’d pass through the main gate, our way to one of the 5 zones you are allocated before each trip,with each zone being around 25 km plus in size, where your jeep has to stay on a small path which takes you around the chosen zone,with a very strict code of conduct on board eg.no shouting/loud noise, you cannot get out of the jeep, its all controlled really well with the Tigers welfare being paramount. 

On Our first full day of safaris both jeeps had some amazing views resulting in great close ups of the Bengal Tiger. On this trip I have two small jeeps that can sit 6 people plus driver and guide, however, I only put two people in each enabling better movement and space for the clients photography as I have first hand experience that this is the very best way to photograph Tigers from the constraints of a small jeep where timing is everything.  We had two safaris per day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon taking us into the late evening light.

I rotated myself during the day between each jeep, so each group received my help with the correct apertures and camera settings for the Tigers, also working alongside the expert knowledge of two of the best guides in India who I worked with last year; Salim Ali- star of the BBC programme Broken Tail seen below in the trailor working with Colin in Ranthambhore for over 400 days tracking this Tiger.  Ragh heading up my second jeep, the best local guides giving my clients the best chance to see these amazing animals perfect recipe for success.

On that first day everyone saw and photographed Tigers and for me it was the perfect welcome back to this amazing place in India.  I could see the look of surprise and shock a little to what each group had witnessed that day, remembering my first encounter, so I knew that look on the clients faces.  Below is an image taken on the first day as we watched this female Tigress stalking Samba Deer, crouching low just like a domestic cat on the lawn at home the only difference being this cat weighed almost a quarter of a ton.

Words just cannot do justice to one of the most beautiful animals on the planet going about its life around you, heading towards you as you slowly feel your heart beat increase, its such a special moment that was mirrored by all the group.  There are less then 3000 Tigers left in India and here on day one we were having encounters that you just would not believe.

On the second day there was a census to count the Tiger numbers so as a group we visited and photographed the fort at Ranthambhore along with all the coloursand people that visit this place to pray and pay respect to their gods, the women bringing their children as the men walk behind,passing through the many gates and dark corridors on the way to the temples to pray. The fort can be seen in the image below on top of the large rocks, being looked over by a female Black Faced Langur Monkey with young.

The Ranthambhore fort is believed to have been built in 944 A.D. by a Chauhan ruler. It is strategically located on the border of Rajasthan and the surrounding forests were used as an outer defence to the advantage of the fort, making it one of the strongest forts of Northern India. The fort had many buildings inside of which only a few have survived the ravages of wars and time. Among the remaining ruins, the two pavilions, Badal Mahal and Hammirs court and parts of the royal palace gave an idea of the old grandeur.

Once you reach the top the view of the Tiger reserve is breath taking with views stretching for miles.  I photographed through one of the many fort holes here showing the park in the distance, giving you a sense of scale of the place.  Its a wonderful place and I can highly recommend a visit here if you are ever visiting Ranthambhore.

It was great to see some of the guards which I had made friends with the year before.  They do an amazing job with limited resources keeping just over 30 Tigers safe from the ever presence of poaching.  They showed me around and were very kind and helpful to my group by letting us pass through the main gate and onto our zone for that day with minimal fuss. I only wished the many politicians and people involved with Tiger conservation  around the world could see the frontline in the battle against poachers and give them more equipment and resources, because on the ground we are asking these fellows to risk their lives against a well organised band of poachers.  Once these Tigers have gone the whole area falls and the Tiger will not return, very sad but money has to be channeled into helping the guards around India in keeping the Tigers alive. I was shocked and saddened by how these guys stop poachers with their limited resources.

 

After the census had finished we settled into our daily routine with an early rise at 5am, coffee from the staff before the two jeeps came to pick up the different groups, then setting of in search of the Tiger. It is guaranteed to send adrenalin coursing through the veins, whilst every movement in the undergrowth raises the expectation of a sudden appearance of this animal, striped body, footprints in the dust or the warning cries of deer all serving only to heighten the almost unbearable sense of excitement as you watch and listen for the first clue that a Tiger is around you. The photo below shows one of the seven gates we pass through  during our safaris.

The mornings for me are the best, the sights and sounds of the Jungle are amazing,so very different to back home.  Every call you tune into and having to stay on small tracks as you try to see what is happening far ahead by listening and watching for tell tale clues that the ghost of the forest is about.  Warning cries from other animals like Deer and Monkeys are the first indicator somethings not right, then in a flash a Tiger appears as above.  This female was hunting and I captured her walking through a shaft of light.

I always say on my blog the different wonderful and beautiful moments I witness in nature but for me seeing and watching this animal in the wild is one of those moments I truly love and ranks as some of the best times I have spent watching wildlife.  We followed this female as she was actively hunting prey through the forests, sometimes appearing to vanish without trace only to reappear on the tracks that the jeeps use, then standing so still you struggled to see her if you lost eye contact.

The size and build of these animals is amazing, and to see them so close is something I cannot put into words. After the morning safari we’d have breakfast at around 10am then rest until our afternoon safari from 3pm until around 6.30-7pm.  This was our routine for the rest of the week and as with everything you love, it goes to quick.  Sitting with clients in both of the jeeps I always discussed which were the best settings, giving my advice in these testing conditions, where a Tiger can just appear from knowhere then vanish before you ever got your camera ready. I demostanded the best ways that I have found to capture those moments, working with different focal lengths and lens, all the time trying to capture what you see.

As the week went on some of the sightings were at a distance, we did come across a female Tigress protecting a kill among a dry riverbed where she was well hidden from view.  She had killed a Samba Deer some days earlier and was feeding, then leaving it, all the time going back. She had cubs in the area, well hidden from view and she would vanish then reappear again often going to feed and tend to her young.

This photo captured that first moment we made contact with her as she hid the kill really well and had cubs nearby, it was a dry riverbed with overhead cover from the forest trees.  She took nearly two days to finish the kill off and we just watched from a distance before she headed off and walked past our jeep and headed out of site towards where she may have had her cubs safety hidden.  It was clear from her nipples she was feeding cubs and I was praying they might show but I was told by Salim that it was to early and in another 4-5 weeks they will be around and feeding.  I’ll have to wait until next year when there may be a good chance of seeing them at nearly a year old fingers crossed.  A number of other females are pregnant also so there’s lots of new life on the horizon, which will be great for their numbers.

Over time as we watched this female Tigress a crocodile seemed to be heading towards the kill but in the end he chose another path from that one where the Tiger was.

The whole group captured some amazing images of the Tigers and this female was the most popular, where over a period of a couple of days we had a great insight to her behaviour which was fascinating to witness.

The week there pasted far to quick and before we knew it the time had come to leave Ranthambhore and head off home.  I wished I could have stayed as I really love this place and its Tigers, it has a magical feel to it, an old fort taken over by nature.  We headed for the airport the same way we came, packed lunches in hand as we started the journey home, thank you to my clients for your company, big thank you to Ragh and Salim for your help and expert tracking and guidance with the Tigers. 

Many thanks to the staff at the Ranthambhore Bagh where we stay, great food, warm welcome and a great base for this trip.  Next years details and dates on on my website here, I only take 4 people maxim, 2 person per jeep, this is the best for photographing the Tigers I have found over my time there, as space in the jeeps is crucial to capturing that shot you sometimes only have seconds to take before they have vanished into the forests.

I will be releasing a few more limited edition prints very soon to go along with the 3 others I currently have, where 50% of the profits go to a charity I work with to help rise money for Tigers around the world; 21 Century Tiger.  Where they spend 100% of your money in helping Tigers around the world, these animals are in real danger of extinction and need as much help as possible so that future children get the chance to see this amazing animal in the wild. 


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