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The Sirhowy River Dippers.

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on January 12, 2015 at 12:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Since the loss of the Coal and Steel industries in the South Wales Valleys, the waterways have become much cleaner and as a result the Wildlife that once thrived here have returned. A speciality of these fast flowing rivers is the Dipper.

Early last year myself and Andrew decided to do a photographic project on Dippers, documenting their lives from nestbuilding right through to fledging young and with the help of a friend that walks the River Sirhowy each day thats exactly what we did.

Andrew called me to let me know that his mate had found a pair building a nest on the Sirhowy so we arranged to meet up at the site to if it would be viable for photography. Luckily the river was quite narrow at the point where they were building with a broad shingle bank opposite.

The plan was to set up the pop up hide away from the waters edge and watch from a distance to see if the Birds were agitated by its presence. They were fine and over the course of a week we moved it closer and closer until it was at the waters edge. Had they been agitated by the hide we would have shelved the plans for that site and found another as no photograph is worth a failed nest. When the river was low enough we found that we could actually place it in the shallow water of the shingle bank to get us within 10 metres of the birds. We had to anchor it down though as it floated. For a hide that cost only £65 it has served me very well from photographing Grouse on the high hills and moors to now Dippers in the deep valleys..........bargain!

The first session in the hide had both adults bringing moss back and forth to build the outer dome of the nest that was set on a rocky ledge. The final part of the nestbuilding process was them bringing Beech leaves to line the inside but not before they washed them in the River first.

Things were quiet for a week or two afterwards as the eggs were being incubated by the female but on the third session something caught my eye just inside the nest. At first I thought it was the white throat of the female waiting for the male to bring her some food as she incubated the eggs so I took a shot to check. As I zoomed into the image on the Cameras LCD screen I could see it was half an eggshell! This was great news on two counts. Firstly they had successfully started to hatch and secondly we could now time how long it would be before they fledged which is normally three weeks.

The next session had both parents busily coming back and forth to feed the young and we were shocked to see how aggressive the adults were towards each other when they arrived at the nest the same time. We also noticed that a lot of the time they would wash the food before taking it to the young.

We had another two sessions whilst the young were still in the nest which made for some great pics. One image I wanted in particular was one of an adult swimming in the deep water below the nest. They would do this usually after depositing faecal sacs to clean themselves and looked quite funny as they bobbed around like a Pike Float.

One of the most memorable sessions we had was when the three chicks fledged and to see them flapping around taking their first steps was amazing as they looked so awkward on the rocks. As the parents were coming back and forth feeding them they were also visiting the nest itself. We initially thought that there was another chick in there but they came out with the now dried and broken Beech leaves that were used to line the nest. It seems they were already preparing for the next clutch to be laid.

The final visit just had the male downstream feeding and everything quiet at the nest with no sign of the young. We had accomplished what we had wanted to do and three more Dippers were now living on a river somewhere in the South Wales Valleys.

Please see the latest images in the Waders/Waterbirds Gallery.

 

My next blog will be on another success story on the Valleys Rivers, the Kingfisher.

 

As a footnote I would not recommend anyone to photograph any Birds at or near the nest unless they know exactly what they are doing. The greatest weapon in a Wildlife Photographers arsenal isnt the camera and equipment they use but the Fieldcraft and Knowledge that is required to do so responsibly. I have been photographing Wildlife for a very long time and the skills required to do so have been learned in the field and not out of a book. Every Wildlife subject will have its comfort zone and you will find out pretty much straight away how close you can get to a particular species. As soon as the subject starts behaving in an unnatural manner you need to move back straight away!

Black Grouse Lek

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on January 7, 2015 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I thought after about eighteen months I had better update my blog lol.

Early last year I went up to North Wales with mate and fellow Wildlife Photographer Andrew Symons to watch Black Grouse lekking for the first time. Its an amazing spectacle of Nature and to see it first hand was awesome as I had always wanted to do so. We only viewed the Lek from the car so pics were near impossible but the experience was enough to get me hooked on these charismatic birds.

Black Grouse in Wales have declined dramatically over the last 100 years or so mainly through loss of habitat but are making a slow but steady recovery and now number over 200 lekking males mainly in the North. After seeing the Lek for the first time I was very keen to get some pics but the only place where I would be guaranteed some images would be the `Pay as you Shoot` hides in the Scottish Highlands.I have never been one to pay for the privilege of shooting Wildlife and have always preferred to do the fieldwork myself as any images I get are more satisfying but how would I get images of them without going down that route?

Cue a message from friend and Wildlife Photographer Drew Buckley who had read of our journey up North and was looking for some images of Black Grouse for his upcoming book. I contacted some associates that issue my Schedule 1 Licence and after several weeks (and about 30 miles of red tape) I got the permission needed to erect a hide on a Lek.

When I made my first visit to the site with Andrew we noted a particular Lek that was prime to set a hide up on. The light was right and with several very large felled Conifers on the edge of the Lek there was enough cover to conceal us. I discussed it with Drew and we arranged to meet on site a few days later. I got there at first light and managed some pics from the car but nothing great to be honest. When Drew arrived it was foggy,windy and raining heavily.We waited for the birds to finish Lekking and then carried the gear we needed up onto the moor.We cleared the inner branches of the larger conifer and erected my pop up hide `inside` the tree and completed the look by covering it with a camo net and topping off with the removed branches.The scene was set.

Drew then observed from a distance the evening and following morning Leks to see if the birds were agitated by the hide but thankfully they just carried on as normal. Had they been nervous of it in any way we would have taken it down and abandoned the project no question. True Wildlife Photographers capture their images whereby the subjects act naturally as if the Photographer isnt there. That is where Fieldcraft skills and subject knowledge come into play and always yield the best results.

Drew had a few sessions on his own throughout the week and I also managed two visits the first of which almost ended in disaster. I went up with good friend Gary and I parked up on the single track mountain road opposite the hide/Lek. We put the head torches on and made our way with the Camera gear up onto the Moor. After about half an hour the sky was lightening fast and we still hadnt found the hide even though it was only five minutes from the road. Eventually we came across it and rushed to get in. As soon as we had we could here the first birds arriving. If they had seen us entering they would have abandoned the Lek and it would have been game over. After a fantastic session with the Grouse lekking just a few feet in front and a close flyby by a quartering Ringtail Hen Harrier we left the hide and headed for the car. We should have been able to see the car from the hide but it was nowhere in sight. Thinking it must have been parked up around the bend we made our way. Getting to the bend we could see the car another mile up the road! We searched about two square miles of open moor in pitch black for something that was designed not to be seen!

My second and final visit was with Andrew and having marked the correct parking spot we found the hide straight away. The sounds coming from these stunning birds in the near dark of a lonely moor is hard to describe. Then you see through the murky light the bright rosette of the tail feathers moving around as they joust with each other. All this going on and you are just willing for it to get light quickly even if its only just enough to capture something of them on Camera.Some of the images I captured are in the Birds (General) Folder in the main Gallery. I hope you like them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

A truly fantastic experience and privilege and certainly one of the highlights in all my years of watching and photographing the Wildlife of my home country of Wales.

One thing I wont miss though is the 1am starts and the 240 mile round trip!

That Elusive Bill Brock!

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on July 19, 2013 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

For many years I have tried and failed to photograph Badgers.Most of the shots you see in magazines and on the net etc are of Badgers that have been lit by artificial means such as off camera flashguns.I could have easily set this up on one of the many setts I know of but I specifically wanted shots of them in natural light.I have no problem on using flash on Wildlife and often use it on Birds such as Pied Flycatchers in the dark woods but still wanted Badgers in as natural light as possible.

Being largely nocturnal and mainly living in woodland this was going to be some challenge and all in all it has taken about 10 years and 8 different setts before it all came together the other day.

I had a phone call a few weeks back off my good mate and fellow Wildlife Photographer Andrew.He said that he had just taken a call off a mate that was watching some Badger cubs that evening in the light of day and had found the sett.He went down to meet his mate where he showed him the area and where the Farmer lived.After a quick visit he managed to get permission for us both to set up our gear and have a go at capturing them.The site of a sett that can be photographed in evening light has to be very specific in terms of its location.The sett itself has to be on the very edge of the wood so we can coax the Badgers out into the open with food.It also has to facing,if possible,South West.This means that the sun will set directly on the area of the sett itself so we can make the most of the failing light in the hope of getting shots.This particular sett fits the bill perfectly and it wasnt long before Andrew started getting pics of them.His first visit with the Camera to be exact!

As you can imagine I was chomping at the bit to give them a go and with Summer marching on we wouldnt have that much time left to get them before the nights start drawing in and we would have to use flashguns.My first few visits were pretty unproductive and only when I took the wife with me did we get a decent view of one but sadly no pics.The next time I did manage a very dark pic of one near the sett entrance under the Trees but it was a start so I started thinking of how best to get them out in the open and in turn the available light.

My plan was to bait an old log in front of the sett on the edge of the copse with Peanut Butter and to scatter a small handful of Peanuts into the sett area to get them interested in food as soon as they emerged.This method worked perfectly and as soon as I sat down in the cover opposite I saw a tell tale black and white striped snout taste the air for danger.He came out and started snuffling up the Peanuts and then went to ground.Within a minute he was back out with a few mates that started making their way towards the log.As they neared it I was mumbling to myself "Get on the Log.........get on the log!"

Before long the first one had a taste and he was soon trying to clamber up the end of the log but his mate had other ideas.He moved to where the log was anchored into the ground and cautiously made his way up.By this time I was photographing 2 Badgers on the log instead of just one I was hoping for.Within seconds a larger head appeared slap bang in the middle.....BINGO...3 Badgers in one shot on the very log I would have been happy just having one on.Not long after I also had a nice broadsided shot of one eating the Peanut Butter and filled my card within the hour.

The light still wasnt very good and I was shooting at iso 2000,f 10 at 1/40th sec but was very impressed with how the shots came out.As I said,the Summer is getting on now and we have probably missed the best of them but they have been there for at least five years so its a well established sett.Next May will be when we will start to get the best out of it as we will hopefully have the new cubs exploring the area.I will make a few more visits before the Autumn though in the hope of getting some more pics but am more than satisfied with what I have from that amazing session.


Next blog will be on my annual trip to Snowdonia where I am hoping to do some more landscape work and an offer of use of a Red Squirrel Hide off a local mate that I cannot refuse....watch this space ;)


`Mellow Yellow`

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on June 1, 2013 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (2)

One of the species of Bird that has been high on my hit list for as long as I can remember is the Yellowhammer.I first saw one of these `Wild Canaries` as a boy whilst out walking with my Dad.I had read about them in a Ladybird Book (remember them?) of Birds and their Eggs that my father had when he was a child.It said in there that the song resembled the phrase `A little bit of bread and no Cheeese`.And it is in fact true.My first encounter was whilst out walking on Llangynidr Common when I was about 10 but they have long since gone from that area sadly and are now on the RSPB red list.

I was out walking a few weeks back just prior to the breeding season kicking off when I heard the quiet song of a male in a distant tree.Against the dark brooding clouds he stood out like a sore thumb and I managed a pic.A return a few weeks later turned up at least 6 singing males all concentrated in a smallish area of mixed Gorse/Bracken heathland.I couldn’t believe my luck!

As I approached a nice patch of flowering Gorse where I had seen one of the males singing he dropped down into the middle and out of sight.I set my gear up within range and waited to see if he would come back out.Sure enough within about 10 minutes I could see the bright yellow of his head making his way up to the top again.As he perched on the top the colour of the flowers matched his perfectly and I managed some nice full framers.

A return visit with Andy for a more realistic count actually turned up 8 males and 1 female.This site seems to be an absolute Goldmine for this species that is under threat and I dare say there will be a lot more as the other 7 males` females must surely be on eggs.They are a resident species too so it should mean all year round shooting which is great and I am so glad to have found a decent site for them.

I am looking forward to getting up there again very soon to capture some pics of the young as they fledge and also the added bonus that the adjacent woodland is home to several pairs of Wood Warbler,another species I want to do more with.

 

Red Grouse.........Result!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on April 11, 2013 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

One bogey species of Bird for me has been the Red Grouse.For longer than I can remember I have wanted a decent image of one in its natural habitat of the moor for two reasons.One,its a very challenging subject around here as they are very skittish.Two,I wanted to use a shot of this species for a forthcoming Upland Birds of Wales Calendar.I could have gone the easy route and travelled to the North Yorkshire Moors where they are high in numbers a quite approachable but I didnt want to add images to a Calendar of Welsh Birds with one from England as I feel it would be cheating.

My chosen site to work with the Grouse is a local Heather Moor in the Brecon Beacons National Park.It isnt a `Keepered` Moor so the Birds are truly wild,low in number and very hard to approach.My first visit was in some late Winter snow combined with thick fog.It was so frustrating hearing the males cackling and not knowing where they are.I did try stalking a pair but the fog gave the impression that the Birds I was struggling to make out were massive so I thought they must be Pheasants.They were in fact Grouse but I was a lot closer than I thought and promptly flew off.My second visit was made with my good mate Andrew and was in high winds with the snow still thick on the ground.The temperature when we left the car was -6 but with the wind chill factor we made out that it was probably more like -10.No Grouse at all that day as I think they had moved down to the lower slopes to feed and when your actual beard freezes you know its time to make a move home!

By far my best result with the Grouse was just yesterday evening whilst walking the the Dog with the wife.We made our way to the trig point of the mountain and on our way back we were watching a couple of males displaying on the lower slope.The wife said "Is that one,with the red on his head" to which I looked but just couldnt see it.Eventually I did and it looked about 60 metres away so I had to plan my approach.

The area between myself and the Grouse was rough moorland being a mixture of Peat,Rocks and Heather but being on level ground I knew it would be a hard stalk having to get down low.With the Bird at ground level anything above a couple of feet will be sillouetted against the skyline so it would have to be a `on the belly`job.This method means that all the Bird will see is my head and shoulders which will hopefully blend in with the surroundings.The way I move whilst stalking this way is to hold the Camera in my hands and drag myself along with my elbows always keeping an eye on my target.It can be tempting to use my knees but to do so would raise my backside into the air above my head as its quite large so changing my profile and thus risk spooking the Grouse.The only time I would make ground is when the Grouse seemed happy to carry on feeding.Everytime he would raise his head for a look around I would stop and wait for him to settle again,however long it took.My goal was to get to a rock between us so I can brace my camera against the side of it as the light was crap giving slow shutter speeds.You should never look over cover whilst working open country as you stick out like a sore thumb scaring everything around you.When I eventually got to the rock he settled down to feed once more and I managed about 10 minutes with him snapping away.To say I was pleased with the results is an understatement and I was still buzzing about it today in work!

There was one downside though...the wife wanted to go to Morrisons on the way home but with me covered in Peat,Mud and soaking wet I wasnt going anywhere.

 

I do have to thank the wife though for spotting him in the first place though and I am hoping she will come with me on the weekend as a spotter for another session.I am not sure the 5am start will go down too well though.

 

Wyedean Forest Rally 2013

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on February 12, 2013 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

My first Rally of the year came in the form of the 2013 Wyedean last weekend and was a very welcome respite from the very often frustrating world of Wildlife Photography.

After printing out the Stage maps a few days earlier I decided on going to the first stage (Sallow Vallets..........whatever that means!) and arrived with my son and two of his mates in tow at first light.The walk down to the stage was a chance to fill in my sons mates on Rally `etiquette`.In other words `How to avoid getting killed and/or having your face peppered with granite!`

My usual method of shooting a stage is to walk a few miles down mentally noting interesting spots such as bends etc and then as the field drive through making my way back shooting as I go.This gives different perspectives as it can be quite boring seeing/shooting cars in the same positions on the same part of the track.

After about 2 miles I set the camera up in anticipation of the first class through,the 1400cc`s.The organisers run these less powerful cars first as they do less damage to the sometimes quite fragile loose gravel surface.If you have ever been to a forest rally then you will know how much the 4wd turbo cars can rut the stage making it near impossible for the 2wd 1400 class to drive on.

The light was absolutely abysmal to be fair.Thick fog hung in the trees along with the arrival of the rain.I bolted my trusty Sigma 50-500 on the 50d along with the waterproof cover.The first cars came through and although I was shooting at 1000 iso and only 1/125th sec had some great panning shots through the mud.A roadside ditch gave me a chance to try out the ultra wide angle 10-20mm and had some good low level shots I was pleased with.

The rain eased along with the fog in the break before the big boys came through so took my chance to make my way back to a slight hairpin I noted on the walk downstage.Another photographer had the same idea so I had to settle with going upstage a bit and shoot the cars exiting the bend.

One of the highlights has to be shooting a Toyota Celica GT4 for the first time,especially as it was in the works Castrol livery as driven by the likes of Didier Auriol and Juha Kankunnen.Thats the great thing about these clubman Rallies,you get all sorts of machinery of all different ages.

This was the first time I have used the Canon 50d at a Motorsports event so was keen to try out the A1 Servo tracking autofocus system.I have never rated it much on my other cameras which I mainly put down to the lens but I was so wrong.The 50d locked onto the cars straight away and followed it all the way as it came towards me,went passed and then drove away from me without missing a frame.Really pleased with that and looking forward to my next event which will be the Tour of Epynt next month on the ultra fast tarmac of the Sennybridge Ranges.

 

Really got the buzz for Rallying again now and its much less frustrating than Wildlife but come the weekend I will be back in my remote cold hide high in the Brecon Beacons waiting...........waiting.........and waiting to click that shutter button!

Setting up a Raptor Site

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on January 22, 2013 at 12:50 PM Comments comments (6)

As Winter is now well and truly underway I have decided to go ahead with the plans to set up a Raptor Feeding Station for Photography purposes.When it becomes busy I will be holding sessions there as I have done with the Mossy Log Woodland Bird Feeding Station,which is still running for anyone wishing to book.

Working full time has to biggest disadvantage to setting up a project like this as it takes so much time.Firstly I have to make sure that I have a regular natural food source which,through the help of Andrew I have in the form of fresh Game such as Pheasant and Rabbits.

Secondly I need to find a remote enough location to avoid human disturbance and interference which again I have done.Raptors are very nervous of any new structure so to combat this I have utilised a long dis-used lime kiln which is dug into the side of the mountain in an abandoned quarry.The `building` has been there for about 150 years so the Birds will find nothing unusual but they will be nervous of the sight of someone inside.To avoid detection my plan was to set up my gear right at the back wall which is a good 12 feet inside and to avoid the Birds seeing me even further I have hung a black sheet across in front of me with a hole cut out for my lens only.This way of working means that anything looking in will just see what looks like the dark inner reaches of the structure and will go about its business.

It still means that I have to enter when its dark as the target species are some of the more intelligent Birds to Photograph and will wait for you to leave before they come near any bait,no matter how hungry they are.

After baiting for a week I popped over to the site and watched from a distance and noted 2 Magpies a Raven and a Buzzard all feeding on the Pheasants left out.I then planned for my first session a couple of days later after the first dusting of Snow.Arriving in total darkness was a bit strange but once set up with a Coffee from the flask I began to wait.......and wait.........and wait.The light came along with a couple of Magpies and I took one or two record shots but they were not really what I was after.Next to fly past was a Raven and he promptly landed in front of the `hide`.As soon as I got a clear shot I pressed the shutter but to be honest it was a mistake.Ravens are very clever,cautious Birds and as soon as the Camera went off he flew away.Dont get me wrong I was very pleased to get a shot of him as they are a very hard species to work on but the idea is too allow the Corvids to feed and act as `decoys` to the Raptor species I am after.Basically a Buzzard,for example,will watch a carcase from a distance and as soon as he can see that Ravens etc are happy to sit there feeding he knows the coast is clear and all is well.Then he will make his move.The rest of the session was very quiet,had I blown it?

My next session was much more productive in terms of confidence in the Birds.Again I arrived in darkness and set up in the bitter cold.Again the light came and as the sheet in front of me is cotton I can actually see through it and saw a Buzzard and Red Kite wheeling around in the valley below.Along with these a few Ravens were croaking above me and a Fox was watching the Sheep feeding on Hay from the hill opposite.It didnt take long for the Ravens to drop in and 3 of them came in at once.As the snow was heavy on the ground to attract a bit more attention I mixed some red food colouring with water and created what looked like a bloody murder scene around the bait.It was so tempting to take shots of the Ravens but I had to hang back in the hope of a Raptor coming in.Sadly they didnt which I put down to them staying low in the valley due to the lack of a thermal to ride.After the sheer boredom of playing games on my mobile and eventually running the battery down I called it a day and set off for the car.

Although I didnt get any shots on that last session I am still confident the site will work and am looking forward to another session.

 

Then again I could easily get a handler with a captive Bird and for the price of a few prints shoot all the shots I could possibly want.What sort of challenge or buzz would that be though...................not much of one,I know  ;)

Review of the Year

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on December 31, 2012 at 3:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Its New Years Eve so I thought I would blog my review of 2012 from my own personal point as a Photographer.

 

From the Wildlife side I have added several species to my portfolio through the help of various friends.One of the more memorable sessions I had was with some Red Squirrels on Anglesey back in July.Beautiful mammals and an absolute pleasure to shoot.As I was on a family holiday in North Wales at the time I had no time to look for them myself.My shots would not have been possible without the help of the members of The Red Squirrel Trust Wales,so a big thank you to them.

Another species I have wanted to shoot was Little Owls.I met a guy on Skomer last year and we have kept in contact and have worked together throughout this year on various projects.I helped him by sharing what I have learned over the past 20 years as a Wildlife Photographer and he has helped me by getting sites through his contacts with landowners.This `arrangement` has worked very well for both of us and we will be continuing to work together through 2013 and hopefully beyond.We now have a private site for both Little and Barn Owls that we hope to develop as workshops open to other photographers.Cheers mate ;)

Whinchats were also on my `Most Wanted` list and through some regular observations I managed to find a site whereby a pair of these upland Birds fledged 5 young.The sessions I had with them on that cold wet moor were some of my more memorable.

Regularly known as the most beautiful bird in Britain,Kingfishers were also a high priority for 2012.I managed a few shots in God awful light and conditions of a pair on the Sirhowy River earlier in the year.My best of this species by far came just yesterday where a stunning male continued to pose and perform for us and the shots are in the Waders/Waterbirds Gallery.

Some species that I have worked on this year continued to elude me.None more so than Otters.Although I have been to plenty of sites and found signs of them I still managed no pics.Inland river Otters are largely nocturnal and have massive territories so you usually stumble across them.Hopefully 2013 will bring a lot of stumbling!

Only 2 Rallys this year meant very limited pics in the way of Motorsports but my most memorable was on this years Tour of Epynt.It was a stunning day and I positioned myself at a set of jumps that I hadnt shot at for more than 20 years.I had some great images of cars coming over the jumps head on in relative safety (no-where is safe at Motorsports events) as I was shootng at 500mm.The cars had long turned off before they got anywhere near me but it still caused a bit of a stink amongst the other Photographers there thinking I took them from the middle of the road lol.

Havent done much Landscape Photography this year either and most have been whilst on Wildlife shoots.My best work in this field in 2012 in my opinion was some images I got of Llyn Gwynant,Snowdonia.I had bought a wide angle lens off a fellow Photographer and friend and wanted to replicate a sunrise shot of the lake I took back in 2011.In that shot I had nothing wide enough to get the rising Sun in the frame so with the help of the 10mm focal length this time I did.The resulting image is in the Landscapes Gallery.

 

I have never seen myself as a Teacher/Tutor before but 2012 has seen me do just that.Through different ways I have been asked tips and advice from various Photographers on how I get my Wildlife shots.One of the ways I have taught is through the Mossy Log Woodland Hide that I run along with my mate Andy.Photographers can book a session with either of us and if needed we will teach the art of Bird Photography and how to get the best out of their Camera gear.I was surprised just how rewarding it can be seeing the improvements in their images just by having one session with us and hopefully will continue to help in 2013.

 

So thats it,a brief review of my year as a Photographer!

Hopefully next Year I will have more images to share with you from some new projects in the pipeline and you will continue to drop by.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!

 

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on December 26, 2012 at 3:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Firstly can I just apologise to the members of this site that received Spam emails last week through this site.Unfortunately its one of the downsides of running your own website and was beyond my control,sorry.

 

I trust everyone is enjoying the holiday season and the time off work has given me some time to work on a new Short Eared Owl site.There are up to 8 birds there and its a site that is quite local too which is always handy.The area comprises of open damp moorland dissected through the middle by some sort of dis-used landfill.The Owls hunt either side of this area and show towards late afternoon most days.Research is always important where wildlife is concerned and a couple of trips combined with walking the Dog gave me some ideas in the best place to set up.

I have always found that a dry afternoon after a previous night of heavy rain and wind is the best time to go for Shorties as they would have been un-able to hunt in the bad weather.This is because they almost entirely rely on sound to locate prey.Last Saturday was such an afternoon so I gave it a go.

I arrived with the Dog at about 2.30 and although it was dry the wind was up a bit.The landfill provides a natural wind barrier so my idea was that the Owls would hunt in the lee of this `hill` to maximise the ability to hear the Voles without too much wind interference.It would also mean that they would have to hover (a favoured hunting technique) below the top of the landfill bringing them within camera range.

A wasnt Ghillied up but was in my basic camo gear and just set up the tripod just behind some rocks and settled down.I had to wait until about 3.15 before the first Shortie arrived but he was too far for pics.It didnt take him long to make his way towards me though and the first shots were in the bag.

When shooting on open ground like this your eye gets `pulled` to other movements and one such instance resulted in a fly through Merlin.Way too fast for me to lock onto despite recently aquiring a new Canon 50d with much better auto-focus than my previous camera.Another incident resulted in a male Hen Harrier quartering the hillside about 400 metres away.I took a shot just for record purposes but what a stunning Bird that was.

The next Owl to come close enough for a shot was one of two that were having a dispute quite a distance away.At first he didnt notice me but when I made a `squeak` he came and hovered about 10 feet above me giving me quite a good stare.He flew off and started to hunt about 30 metres away where he gave me my best opportunity of the session for a hovering shot.

The sky was grey and the light was failing which meant high iso and low shutter speeds so my hit rate wasnt great but pleased to have come away with something.All in all I had 4 Shorties around me on that session and the research on the site had paid off.They should be around until at least March so hopefully it will give me some more opportunities but hopefully in some better light.

 

Captive vs Wild

Posted by Mike Warburton Photography on December 8, 2012 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I was out last week with a mate looking for Waxwing in an enclosed Orchard.None were found but we did come across a Cat hunting the Blackbirds that were feeding on the windfall Apples.This got me thinking,how different is the scene in front of me to one I would encounter with a Lioness hunting Wildebeest on the Masai Mara?They are both feline predators using the same method of hunting prey,just on a different scale.I then got thinking about the great `Captive vs Wild` debate that seems to be so important to many Photographers these days.

My own personal view is that if you shoot captive subjects you should not dupe your audience into thinking they are wild.I have seen this happen on several occasions and not from just amateur/hobby photographers either,these are just two examples.

One was where the Photographer in question won quite a prestigous award for a captive species that was shot on a completely different continent way out of its natural range.The judges were aware of this as but being ill-informed where Wildlife was concerned they didnt pick up on it.

Another was where the Photographer in question took a beautiful portrait of a nocturnal species.To the layman it was just that but for an experienced Wildlife Photographer/Naturalist the image just didnt sit right.The vegetation in the photo indicated that the image was shot in high Summer and the lack of shadows on a sunny day meant it was around about mid-day.To get that image in the wild is next to impossible and it was later found to be captive shot.

I can totally understand a pro with deadlines to meet shootng captive species.After all a Picture Editor doesnt care whether it is wild or not providing it fits the requirement.It is when they pass them off as wild is what gets to me.

I have nothing at all against folk paying to shoot captive subjects and indeed it is sometimes the only way some people can get close to them.Not long ago I saw an image posted on a website where the Photographer described it as "Not very good,but special to me".Basically it was a photo of a Little Owl that was almost totally obscured by a wall except for its eye.It had taken the guy several weeks to get that close and to earn the Birds` trust enough to get a shot which is why it meant so much to him.I have been lucky enough many times to be in that postion with wild subjects so could totally understand where he was coming from.I replied to the post by saying that even though he could pay to do an Owl workshop and get a full frame,un-obscured image with a perfect background it would mean absolutely nothing compared to the one he had of the wild Owl.

Its just a shame that so many choose to go down the captive route these days as they are missing out on so much.The moments when you are on your own in stunning scenery using all your fieldcraft skills to the max to get that one image is hard to describe.When it does result in a good image the whole experience is remembered and pressing the shutter is just a tiny part of it.Dont get me wrong I think that captive workshops are good in the fact that it stops folk that dont have the necessary fieldcraft skills disturbing wild species,especially in the breeding season,which happens so often.

After saying all that I go back to my original statement on how different  is a Cat hunting Blackbirds in the Orchard to a Lioness hunting Wildlebeest on the Mara?

The Cat didnt get the Blackbird because as soon as he saw us he jumped up onto the wall and started rubbing his face on my mates chin.He wouldnt have let a Lioness do that (I dont think) so maybe it is different after all ;)


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