‘Twas not a wasted day!

 

  There they were – gone!

 

  25.10.15 Not too bad a day weather-wise. Decided to visit Weymouth to see if the Bearded Tits were on show. They weren’t! Not a tweet, not a whisper, nor even an errant feather tumbling slowly to the ground. Waterfowl were on show though including a vagrant/ lost/ escaped or whatever Hooded Merganser in the Car Park Pond amongst its more normal contemporaries.

 

Walking through Radipole pathways searching for the day’s lost cause we came on a viewpoint offering good views of a variety of Gulls and Waterfowl. Gulls are so commonplace they are often disregarded as suitable subjects for the serious photographer but they assume a new importance when there is a dearth of other species with which to occupy oneself.

 

Herring and Black Headed of various ages were all bathing and adopting some unusual poses. Gadwall were seemingly oblivious of the human audience, Cormorants were showing off their finer points and Male Mute Swans were showing off their varying testosterone levels with much pugnacious posturing. A very distant Kestrel seemed to be hovering expectantly but with little more success than we had in our target of the day. An even more distant Marsh Harrier seemed to be gracing the vicinity of the distant houses and steadfastly refused to come any closer to what would have been a truly appreciative audience.

 

You can’t win ’em all but we did the best we could.

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Wildlife Photography and the Law

 

 

                                     Shall I, shan’t I?

 

  There are two sets of Laws to consider regarding the photographing of Wildlife subjects – the Law of the Land and the Law of Common Conscience. Both can easily be broken, often with virtual impunity, but if you are one who does so, other than inadvertently, then you are not one with whom I would wish to associate or “take home for tea”!

 

  Whatever you may think about some of the Laws of the Land you have to accept that they have come about for a purpose and that that purpose is almost inevitably for the benefit of the subject in question. That its strictures may not coincide with your photographic aspirations is one of those crosses you have to learn to bear. Some of the Laws in question apply only to the UK and are not necessarily EU or Worldwide in their scope. Nevertheless within the UK they have been set by representatives of the community in which we live and if you are part of that community there is a degree of being honour bound to respect them.

 

  There are varying levels of legal protection offered to a great variety of species, even some very common ones, especially in certain circumstances such as nest sites and breeding areas. Many creatures will abandon or even kill their offspring if subjected to unwarranted intrusion at this time. Even species legally subject to hunting are invariably protected by closed and open seasons as well as a raft of other stipulations. These Laws are constantly subject to revision so it is not practical to list any of them here as they may well have changed by the time of your reading this. Rather my advice would be to give a quick Google Search to any subject you are not sure of. Just type in “Such and Such and the Law” and it should bring up the latest situation regarding your chosen subject.

 

  Don’t think it is being clever to find ways of circumventing these laws as, apart from any immediate effect on the subject in question, there is the chance that you will spoil things for the rest of us by tarring us all with the same brush if you get caught out. There is also the likelihood that you will not be able to use the photos obtained for any meaningful purpose as the image itself will provide proof of the transgression.

 

  As regards the Law of Common Conscience I would refer to my accompanying articles on “Ethics in Closeup” and “Cuddly Wuddlies” and merely reiterate that you will know within yourself if you are being intrusive and, if you are, then do the decent thing and back off. It may not seem so at the time but there will invariably be another time, place and circumstance, when your actions will not be deemed a threat and you can get your shots with a clear conscience. If you ever force a subject into a “Flight or Fight” decision then you have over stepped the mark and should stand down.

 

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Ethics in Close-up

 

                           Ethics in Close-up.

 

   In essence “macro” or “close-up” photography is what it says on the packet and involves taking pictures from close proximity to your subject. Unless you are using remote release equipment (which to me, at risk of incurring the wrath of its practitioners, reduces your photographic prowess to nothing more than luck) this means that not only your equipment but you, also, have to be “close-up”.

 

   Apart from considering the obvious risks to health, life and limb when working with subjects that are capable of inflicting grievous bodily harm upon you there is also the ethical question of how close is justifiable in a given set of circumstances. The degree of closeness that you can attain with many of the more dangerous species will no doubt be determined by their reaction to your advances. If you do evoke their adverse reactions then it will probably be a result of you invading their personal “space” too closely and this is where the ethical question of “how close is justifiable” kicks in.

 

   The majority of the more dangerous subjects mentioned above can probably, to a certain extent, look after themselves in the time honoured fashion using tooth and claw,  but there are a plethora of other, more innocuous species, unable to show their disapproval in any meaningful manner. To these your intrusive behaviour may well constitute what they perceive to be a serious threat. The intensity of this perception will be greatly enhanced if they have young.

 

   There are no hard and fast rules or laws that can adequately cover this situation, since the number of potentially different circumstances are legion – and neither should there need to be. In essence, if your activities in trying to get that closeup “shot of a lifetime” elicit any response from the subject other than merely “keeping an eye on you”, then you have become a threat or a stress factor and should back off.

 

  As a “macro” photographer myself I know well the temptations involved in obtaining those stunning head shots that only being close will provide. There is little appeal, however, attached to an image of an apprehensive or immediately “pre-flight” subject. For those “special” kinds of shots you will find it far more rewarding to direct part of your expertise to locating your desired subjects in surroundings and situations where they have either become accustomed to human presence or your shots can be obtained from such as a hide or vehicle without inciting any degree of panic or unease.

 

The “where” of it, be it in captivity, from a hide, or even out of the car window, is almost unimportant since, if the shots are near to frame filling and taken from really close quarters, or can be cropped up to that size later, there will be little or no identifiable unnatural background showing to spoil them anyway. Using a wide aperture will help to blur any visible background even further.

 

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Rabbits

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   Rabbit populations seem to be on the increase and some areas now host sizeable numbers. I can remember, as a boy, huge Rabbit Warren complexes that held a large quantity of rabbits of mixed age groups. The deliberate introduction of the disease myxomatosis, which reached this country in the mid fifties, however, all but wiped them out. The larger warrens were hit hard as, by hosting so many hot and furry bodies, they proved to be an ideal, almost centrally heated, home for one of the disease’s main vectors which was a flea fond of living in Rabbits’ ears. The crowded rabbit numbers enabled the disease to be spread rapidly.

 

Some few rabbits survived by either contracting the disease and recovering or by not contracting it in the first place due to genetic resistance. Numbers built from these survivors but their breeding patterns seemed to change, in my area at least. You no longer see the large warrens but rabbits rather now breed in smaller numbers and widespread locations such as in a bush, under a stump, in a hedgerow and so on. In those parts of the country where double sided stone “hedges” are used to separate fields they have even resorted to hooking some of the soil hedge filling out and nesting in the ensuing cavity.

 

This can often destabilize the wall and cause its ultimate collapse. In this day and age of expensive manual labour these collapses are often not remedied by rebuilding but rather by replacement with a barbed wire fence – much to the detriment of all the other life forms that depended on these “hedges” for shelter. Although myxomatosis outbreaks still occur, especially when rabbit numbers have flourished in an area, the frequency of these outbreaks does seem to be declining possibly due to a build up in genetic resistance over the years.

 

I should stress here that these comments are based solely on personal observations in areas with which I am familiar and not on any scientific studies, so I am sure that there will be areas of the country relatively unaffected and where the situation may be entirely different. Suffice to say that in this area numbers do seem to be creeping up and it is some time since I saw numbers of rabbits suffering from this most horrible disease.

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   Disease apart, rabbits do seem to have drawn one of life’s shorter straws. They just seem to be so good to eat that anything, including man, that eats meat has Rabbit right up there near the top of the wishlist. Even creatures that do not normally depend on meat will tuck in if they get the chance as any study of what is feeding on rabbit roadkill will show you.

 

As a result of this rabbits have an inherently “twitchy” nature, as they are constantly trying to avoid predation, and are not often the easiest of potential photographic subjects to approach. On some Nature Reserves they become accustomed to a throughput of people and you can sometimes approach quite closely, but otherwise they are more difficult to photograph than you would expect. Anyone who “Pooh, poohs” rabbit photos as “Oh it’s just a rabbit” has probably never tried it themselves.

 

 If it happens to you then send them packing and tell them to come back when they’ve got some decent shots of their own to crow about. Most of the time when a rabbit is photographable it will be sat on a stretch of grass eating and, to be honest, does not provide the most aesthetically pleasing images. Try to get them “doing something”. Anything other than just chewing grass. They probably wont respond to any input from you other than by running away so all you can do is be patient and wait your moment.

 

Good luck or, maybe, “may the skill be with you”.

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Brown Hares

 

 

 

 

I think every Wildlife Photographer has a number of species that, through no real fault of his own, prove to be elusive when to others they present no problems.

 

European Brown Hares were one of these species for me. I think the main problem for me is the fact they qualify as a high time input species if you want meaningful and relatively closeup shots and there never seemed to be the time available to devote to this species. Added to this was the fact that in Dorset, where I live, Hares are not too thick on the ground.

 

I can remember a few years ago, when there was a big move against Hare Coursing, that the so-called “sport” was featured time and again on TV and the venues depicted, of wide open fields, seemed to have a hare sitting there every 50 yards or so. They are not so prolific in Dorset and, although there are sites that host a reasonable number, they are few and far between.

 

To cut a long story short this year I decided to add Hares to my list of successfully photographed species. This intriguing and acrobatic animal is due to receive a much fuller writeup in my next book which is currently underway and so I do not wish to undermine that chapter by covering it too deeply at the moment.

 

Suffice to say that it was a successful operation and I am now the possessor of several thousand images of Brown Hares, both young and old, and have attached some of these to this blog to show what is possible with a little determination.

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 Brown Hares

 

Great Crested Grebes

 

These beautiful birds must be every budding Wildlife Photographers dream. Apart from their unusual design and the constantly changing shape of their head gear, they have a very strikingly bright red eye which positively glows if it catches the light. Being fish eaters the target, of course, is to catch one eating a fish.

 

This target is a fairly obvious one but there are some other patterns of behaviour that are just as exciting, and difficult, to capture. As with most Wildlife subjects the majority of behavioural movement is fairly rapid and there is never enough time to bring your camera to bear and be on the right settings quickly enough to capture most behaviours. The only way to be in with a chance is to find a spot from where you can view a Grebe closely enough to provide you with an image size that suits both your wishes and the limitations of your gear. If you can do that then train your lens on your subject and keep it there.

 

You may end up with square eyes and a wait of sometimes hours, but at least when action occurs you only have to press the shutter release and not have to try to line your subject up and adjust your settings to suit the patch of water that it has inconsiderately moved into since you last did so!! Attached are some images displaying some of the possible actions.

Patience is the key!!

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The weed dance

The weed dance

Grebe stretching

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Showing off

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Feather adjustment

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How’s about that then

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