Monthly Archives: April 2011

How do you define your Seasons?

The last week or so of warm weather, coming on the back of a really dry few weeks in this part of the world has really marked that Spring is definitely here now and Summer probably isn’t too far away.  It’s also got me thinking about just how as individuals we mark the passing of the seasons in an era when many of us are removed from nature generally.

For many it’s the simple things that impact on how they live their lives – brighter evenings at this time of the year and darker ones in the autumn certainly impact on our social activities.  For gardeners and farmers it’s where they are in terms of the years routines of planting, clearing, sowing, harvesting and so on.  For ornithologists it’s all about what’s on migration and what’s breeding or over-wintering dependent on where we are in the year.

As a wildlife photographer each year is full of projects.  This can be a combination of trips, research ventures, or working on specific species or habitats at certain times of the year when certain activites, behaviours or general presence is either at it’s optimum potential or offering something different. 

It’s all too easy to get into a far too regular cycle here though – and I hear many a conversation based around following the all too familiar path of photographic ventures as the seasons unfold, and whilst this is great if you haven’t worked on certain species before, have a specific set of images that you’re after or want to build on, or want to revisit something you did a while ago and feel you can improve on, then there’s a lot to be said for taking a different focus once in a while too.

This Spring, while I’ve never been too far away from my beloved Great Crested Grebes, and driven in part by the need for some images for a book project I’m working on for later this year, I’ve been getting up close and personal with some of our Spring wild flowers.  It’s been different, has given me the chance to well and truly think out of the normal box I work in, and although it’s not finished yet, there’s some images I’m pretty pleased with and that will round off my portfolio in a whole new area.

So look out for the Lesser Celandines, the Wood Anenomes, the Wild Garlic and Strawberries before they all disappear soon in this heatwave: they may well help you redefine your seasons photography.

 

Europe’s Great Migration

There’s a lot made on the television about the fantastic migrations that occur in Africa in particular, but there’s plenty of huge distances covered by species in Europe and on our own doorsteps as well, and the scale on which this takes place is probably at it’s most dramatic when it comes to the Common Crane.

Having wintered in Spain and other Mediterranean warmer spots, they head north in vast numbers in the Spring to breed on wetland areas throughout Northern Europe.  The UK was once a stronghold of these beautiful birds but drainage of our wetlands has reduced them now to re-introduction programme led groups in Cambridgeshire and Somerset principally, and a small group of recently returned birds in Norfolk.  If there’s a Cran… in your town or village name there’s a clue that it was a hotspot for Cranes in years past.

Lake Hornborga in Sweden is such a hotspot at this time of year though and I enjoyed a few days there last week to catch up with the birds, along with the coachloads of locals that seemed to be dropping in throughout every day.

The birds have visited the area for hundreds of years en masse – historically because it was an area of potato growing (for the manufacture of schnapps) but more recently beecause the Swedes have restored the wetland area around the lake and feed corn and other grain on a nightly basis.  It’s a national event and last week there were around 15,000 birds all gathered in one area so it’s understandable why: the ground was full of them, the sky too at the beginning and end of the days with several sorties throughout as well.

For me though with Cranes it’s all about the noise.  They are one of the most vocal birds I know, especially at this time of the year when they are celebrating a long journey north and getting ready for the breeding season.

The best place to really experience the noise and interaction of the birds though was to spend a full day in one of the small individual hides (well large coffins with sliding windows really) that are strategically placed away from view and we had booked last year.  Entering the hide at 4.30 am with camera gear, food, stool and bucket (yes…for that) and waiting for the birds to arrive, enjoying their noisy presence all day (along with good numbers of Whooper Swans and other wildfowl) and not leaving until 8.30 pm when they too have left for their roost, is certainly a long day but what an opportunity to get up close and personal with these fabulous birds and enjoy their grooming, feeding and interactive antics.

 

The intensity of it all around me for such a long time meant that I needed the occasional break to recharge the creative batteries: most of the time in a hide I’m waiting for things to happen or arrive, here it’s full on all day!  The birds too needed the odd rest after the slightly more frantic feedings of the morning were over, and this fellow even managed a yawn as he awoke from his slumbers!

At times I was convinced a head was going to appear in a window beside me so as well as portraits, grooming and profile shots I also enjoyed looking for smaller details to highlight some of the details of the birds – they really were that close! 

My abiding memory of the day and the whole experience though has to be the noise – when you’re sat blind to most of what’s around you and a Crane’s lungs fill up and emit the loudest of calls directly behind you (as happened on several occasions) it’s a good job the hide was small as it made me jump nearly every time!

The numbers here will fall over the next week or so as they split back up again into their breeding pairs, find some wetland to raise a family and then begin their journey south again this autumn.  It may not be the Masai Mara but it’s certainly a great migration.

My most expensive image ever?

What do you think is the most expensive image you’ve ever taken (no jokes please about it being one on a Natures Images trip or workshop though please!) ? It’s a question I’ve found myself pondering this week as I’ll explain shortly.

I’ve racked my brains through the trips that I’ve done in search of images of a location or a species and there’s certainly some that have had a high monetary value in that respect.  I know that I’ve spent hours, weeks, and days waiting for certain things to happen or appear in front of my lens on many many occasions so there are plenty that fall into the high cost in terms of time.  I’ve walked to some endless places and up some pretty steep hills with plenty of heavy gear to lug in both directions (and these too have been fruitless treks on plenty of occasions) so the cost has been high in terms of physical effort.

But this week I hit a new height in terms of cost and it’s that of anxiety (accompanied with a potentially high replacement financial replacement cost) as I managed to completely submerge my beloved 500mm in a local lake while working on some Great Crested Grebes that I’ve been enjoying greatly over the last few weeks. It’ll teach me to sit in the water for that perfect shot (and I’ve had some amazing experiences and some fantastic images and video too with them but that’s for another day as it’s still work in progress) – my wife and children think I’m barmy for doing that anyway – but it’s what I’m driven to do in search of greater intimacy in my work so I can’t see myself really learning too much on that front, but the anxiety wave that hit me as I turned to see bubbles where my lens and tripod used to be (fortunately no camera body attached at the time) and having rescued it watched the muddy smelly water drain out of the focus ring was very high I can assure you.  The air was mildly blue too! 

 My anxiety is still high as the lens is currently sat with CPS awaiting their verdict and although early indications from the insurers appear positive nothings sorted until it’s sorted on that front and there will of course be financial penalties even if it’s a successful claim – if not it’ll be even higher as life without a 500mm is impossible to contemplate. Fortunately it’s tolerable at the moment thatnks to great friend Kevin at TFC who’s helped me out with a 600mm to tie things over until the verdict is reached.

If you own expensive kit the moral is clear – don’t do stupid things with it like I do, and make sure it’s insured. And then ask yourself what the most expensive image you’ve ever taken and why too – here’s mine: not the best by any means but the last one of the morning before the sinking of the 500!

Postscript: Just been told the lens is “beyond economical repair” – the anxiety just got higher!!