Back at the start of the summer, some of you might remember that I was lucky enoguh to have a Water Vole living right outside the office front door. After a summer of heavy rain, plenty of food and lots of waterways to explore this Water Vole disappeared. There was the odd occasion where one of my colleagues would hear the tell tale "plop" as it ducked underwater.
Now, much to my delight, it seems to be back in the mill stream enjoying the vegetation and perhaps even the small amount of shelter and warmth the old mill provides. So over a 20 minute spell I went out with my camera and got rather close, in fact at one point it was probably only 2 feet away from ... well my foot! I hope you like looking through the portraits.
The first image, below, was the furthest the Water Vole was away from me throughout the session. All of the images were shot at an Aperture of f/2.8 or f/3.5 which helps the vole stand out a little better from the vegetation. Ideally I would have loved to have been in the water to get the lowest angle possible, this might have to wait for another day.
I lost sight of the vole at one point as he went off under the mill, I assumed he was going to disappear so I moved to the edge of the mill stream only to realise he was actually coming round and ended up only a couple of feet away. I was absolutely amazed, the vole knew I was there and I made my movements very deliberate so as not to scare it off. I slowly moved backwards as I didn't want to be too close and once I got a couple of metres away I tried to get a couple of images. The image below was my favourite from the mini series of images.
The image below was by far my favourite of the short session. The Water Vole had been moving to and fro feeding on the surrounding vegetation and was repeatedly returning to this spot to nibble its salad. The light improved and the little fellow turned to look at me, perhaps wondering what the noise of the camera shutter was. I love the colour, the composition and of course the cute factor of this little chap!
A really wonderful way to spend 20 minutes on a cold morning. Winter is definitely coming, the nights are getting longer and longer and the cold is starting to bite. It makes you appreciate the slightest bit of decent weather and when you get an opportunity to photograph something as lovely as this small mammal, then you really have to make the most of it.
Over the summer a pair of Pied Wagtails used the out-buildings around the Naturetrek office to bring up a brood of chicks. I can't be sure how successful they were as I couldn't get close to the nest without disturbing them. It does seem that the chicks fledged successfully though.
Now that autumn is turning into winter I haven't seen the birds all that often, but when the weather is nice and the sun is shining we often see a pair of birds hopping across the rooftops. Last week we had one such day, so I thought I would make the most of it and head out into the courtyard for a spot of lunchtime photography.
The light could not have been better, the sun was relatively low in the sky and lighting up the birds perfectly. The challenge was trying to focus on such fast little birds that are quite unpredictable. After 10-20 minutes (most of my lunch break) I started to have some success and they were seemingly un-deterred by my presence. I think my colleagues thought I might have been a bit loopy as I stood on top of the wall in the car park, trying to get a higher point of view.
For me the photo below was one of my favourites from the half an hour or so I spent photographing them. The light is great as I mentioned before and the bird is in such an interesting pose. It was actually watching a fly as it buzzed slowly by, only moments later the Wagtail flew off and intercepted the lethargic insect, quickly devouring it and searching for its next snack. The other thing that makes this picture stand out for me is the lovely colour and texture of the corrugated iron roof, it really adds to the composition.
Now the image below is what I tried to get from the outset, some fast paced Pied Wagtail action, the issue was it was so high paced I could hardly keep up. If you blinked you missed the bird take off altogether, then it was a quick spin around to try and spot the bird, only then realising it was back at the same spot it left moments earlier. Now with a 1D series camera my success rate might have been a little higher but I noticed significant improvement as time went on. After only half an hour I really started to be able to judge the timing for take off and managed to get some striking results. Landing on the other hand was a completely different matter (0% success rate :D).
More of a portrait for the image below, nothing particularly special other than a posing bird lit beautifully in the afternoon sun.
The image below is definitely my favourite image from the half an hour session, as I said earlier I started to learn when the birds were readying themselves for take off and that led to this shot. It was great timing, fantastic light and the wider format really makes the bird pop out! I have to say I was dead chuffed when I saw I had captured this incredibly quick moment.
For me this demonstrates exactly why you should have your camera with you at all times. I only got half an hour to go out with my camera and I probably got 10-15 shots that I was really happy with. That is probably better than when I go away to Africa. The fantastic autumnal light made it possible but it was a great half an hour with a species I had never even thought to photograph before.
Sorry for the delay in updating my blog, it has been a bit mad the last couple of months. I have been busy at work and the weather has been, well, awful! I have hardly been out with my camera since the spring, everytime I seem to get some free time and make plans to head out the weather quickly deteriorates.
Back at the end of August a friend of mine, Zane Engelbrecht (another wildlife photographer) invited me down to his local patch in Dorset to photograph Otters. Of course I could not refuse this opportunity, although it did mean an early morning start of 3.45 am.
The Otter had been struggling in the UK up until recently, the rivers were polluted and being at the top of the food chain did them no favours. The population crashed and it has only been recently that Otters have, once again, been recorded in every county in the UK - thank goodness! I have spent many hours sitting on river banks waiting for the briefest of sightings and never had much luck.
However the Otters outside the town of Blandford have become particularly comfortable around people and they are also extremely active throughout the day.
As the sun rose we set off in search of our charismatic subjects, and after nearly an hour walking up and down the river bank I spotted some movement on the river bend ahead. At last we found the family and I was astounded at just how close we got. There were moments when they were so close I could not focus on them, in fact the mother climbed up the river bank and had a good look at me before sliding back down into the water.
It was hard to keep following an individual, the stream of bubbles were the only clue as to where they were underwater. However, when they teamed up it was nearly impossible to follow one. They seemed to be eating shellfish which they were collecting from the river bed, and then working them around in their mouth, eventually crushing them open.
Occasionally the Otters would appear in a patch of the river that was lit in the beautiful golden light. It was definitely a perfect morning but I really struggled to get the Auto Focus to lock on. I am not sure whether it was my poor technique (I have never photographed Otter before) or whether it was my camera acting up again but a week later I sent the camera in for another attempt at sorting out a whole host of AF issues.
It really was a magical morning, the light was surreal and the surrounding landscape created an idyllic scene. I was pretty tired by the time I got home but I was on such a high, to get so close to one of the most elusive creatures in the UK was an unforgettable moment for me. It is certainly one of those stand out moments in life when you think to yourself, did that really happen? And luckily for me it did happen and I can't wait to head down there again and make a day of it.
I have a few plans and I am going to try a more subtle approach next time, I now know a couple of scenting positions, where I think I might be able to pull off some wonderful shots. Considering I thought of this as more of a recce I couldn't be happier with the results of the day.