Harvest Mice


 Harvest Mice.


   Ever since encountering one of these delightful little creatures posing perfectly on a stalk at the edge of a wheat field, only some three feet away and with the light just right, at a moment when my camera was still in its bag back in the car, I had been determined to “get” them one day. There have been several attempts since to achieve this and a great many hours of effort have provided me with a number of world beating shots of a harvest mouse’s backside as it disappears into the corn. Most frustrating of all is when there is one posed perfectly at the top of a stalk, well within lens reach, but with at least 49 other stalks between you and him. It would almost be better not to see one at all than to see it smiling and waving at you, and not be able to get a good clear shot.

   I know there are many out there who would say that photographing wildlife under what are euphemistically called “controlled conditions” is cheating, as if it is some sort of game governed by a rulebook, but to them I can only say “Get real”. If what you want from your photography is to be able to have the pleasure of looking through your images of various subjects for whatever reason, be it just for the sheer joy of seeing them or to provide cards, slideshows, or whatever for friends and relations, then you will have to accept that, for certain subjects, and in certain circumstances, your choice will be between working under those controlled conditions, and obtaining images which can provide immense pleasure for years to come, or having no images at all. As far as I’m concerned it’s a no-brainer. In the case of Harvest Mice they are such endearing and iconic subjects that it would be a crying shame to exclude them from your portfolio just on a half-assed principle. I’m sure there are many out there who have dropped lucky or even been skilful enough to encourage these creatures into suitable surroundings but they will mostly have been people who have just been lucky, or in a position to invest a disproportionate amount of time in getting their images. These people I applaud but not everyone can be so fortunate, especially those who do not have the good fortune to live close enough to a cereal field to be able to “just pop up the road” frequently enough to sensibly monitor a baited feeding spot.

   I have frequently pointed out in my books and articles that, in the case of many truly wild subjects, it is simply not ethical to intrude on their “space” to the extent that you eventually force it into a “fight or flight” decision. Unfortunately for a subject as diminutive as a Harvest Mouse you will have to be very close, in relative terms, to capture a decent size image. It’s not like an elephant that you can probably get all the image you want from the distance of a football pitch away. For these little guys you are going to be virtually “in their face”. Fortunately, throughout the UK, there are now a number of photographic “workshop” opportunities offering the chance to work with subjects habituated to the species “Homo sapiens”. These workshops typically offer half day courses and give you the chance to get really close without causing stress for the subjects. We are lucky to have one such – “Windows on Wildlife” – down here in deepest, darkest, Dorset who, weather permitting, offers an outdoor setting which allows for very natural backgrounds. As a photographer and Wildlife lover himself he seems to know what both you and his animal allies are looking for and, whilst I am sure that if it came to a conflict of interest then his Mice would win hands down, he offers an experience virtually guaranteed to provide you with images the likes of which few, if any, could realistically be expected to obtain out in the middle of a field. His website is www.deanmasonwildlifephotography.co.uk and his contact no is Dean Mason on 07480 110772.


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Small British Mammals


Small British Mammals.


   I have always believed that the chances of photographing even a small range of British mammals, in other than captive conditions, would never prove to be cost effective in terms of time and effort. I have twice proved myself wrong and on both occasions I was intent on photographing something entirely different. The first time was whilst waiting for an Osprey to fly in and the second time was when photographing Barn Owls.

   The second time was more manageable as it was much closer to home. I was lucky enough to know of a site where a pair of Barn Owls could be seen flying at any time from 1-00pm onwards. There was no consistency to their timing nor frequency of flight. The only answer was to hunker down and be prepared to see what, if anything, the day would bring. The site was adjacent to a farm and sometimes their prey was a full grown rat and at other times a succession of voles and mice of various sizes. If the first catch of the day was a rat then that was the only fly-by for that particular owl for the day. If the catch was an immature vole or mouse then digesting time seemed to be about one and a half to two hours, when another flight would take place. This led to a lot of time waiting for the next flight with precious little to do in the meantime.

   The place I had chosen as a hidey-hole was frequented by a friendly Robin and my guilty conscience at wolfing down my lunchtime sandwiches in front of him eventually led me to share some with him. There was a well vegetated bank behind me and I took to placing tidbits on it in anticipation of his joining me. One day I noticed that a Bank Vole had beaten him to it so I increased the menu to include a range of bird seed mix. Over the ensuing days I was treated to a succession of Mammals such as I had never really expected to come within range. They got used to the idea that it was open pantry time at much the same time that they accepted a heavily camouflaged me as a natural part of the landscape. My total “bag” included common rat, bank vole, field vole, wood mouse, yellow collared mouse, shrew and an assortment of hedgerow birds that grew in confidence as the days went by. 


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Bank Vole

 Bank Vole

Young Bank Voles

Adult Bank Vole

Field or Short Tailed Vole

Common  Rats


Wood Mice

Wood Mouse

Yellow Collared Mouse

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Domestic Stock and Wildlife.


        Domestic Livestock


   Whilst not forming part of the spectrum of “wild” species that lend themselves to the heading “Wildlife”, domestic stock can be an all important factor to take into account when deciding “where to go and what to do for the day’s photography”. Apart from the fact that many Domestics make very photogenic subjects in themselves they are all too often instrumental in determining the nature of the areas in which they live. The grazing of Domestic stock in areas such as the New Forest determines the growth and development of various types of vegetation such as grasses and edible shrubs. The configuration of fields, hedgerows, coppices and set-asides in agricultural areas is often determined by the requirements of the livestock that those fields and surrounds are going to cater for. This, in turn, dictates the variety of Wildlife to which those areas will be suited.

   Other than the grazing and accommodating requirements of resident livestock the agricultural regimes of spraying, harvesting, ploughing etc can all have a direct effect, often deleterious, on the suitability of the habitat for wildlife species. Many quite normal farming practices will seem designed to cheat you of photographic opportunities that would have seen your efforts on the centre page of The National Geographic but you have to accept that farming “is here to stay”, although its nature is always subject to on-going changes, and you need to learn to work with and around it as opposed to railing against it. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when an early cut of silage can destroy the breeding efforts of Hares, Lapwings and other meadow nesting birds but photographic opportunity can be found in Domestic Livestock areas by photographing some of the more photogenic species themselves. Even for those photographers of a commercial bent this need not be a waste of time as the picture buying public will always have a soft spot for “cute and cuddlies” and images of the young of most species will always tug at the heartstrings.


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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.


   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


Cuddly Wuddlies!

Lions at play
Not so cuddly wuddly…

One of the problems with photographing the young of many of our chosen wildlife subjects is that there will inevitably be some amongst them that will appear to be almost irresistibly “cute and cuddly”. It is a common human failing to anthropomorphise many wild creatures and especially their young. How you feel towards them is of course, to them, a completely alien and unreciprocated sentiment. You cannot expect either them, or their no doubt doting parents, to share your enthusiasms. They will frequently respond to your approach and advances with a typical flight or fight reaction, or some combination of the two.

Many young animals, however, especially those of predatory species which can be born with an ingrained feeling of superiority, will not be old enough to have developed a natural aversion to creatures such as yourself. Some may even, in fact, respond to your overtures with a seeming desire to interact with you. This is probably fine, up to a point, if you’re working with rabbits, but many of the Big Cat species often come within this category.

Several of the chapters in my book Wildlife Photography on a Budget are dedicated to convincing readers to “get up close” because that’s where the best shots are to be found. However, when doing this with the young of species that can eat you, or even just give you a nasty suck, my advice is “Never forget Mum and Dad”. There’s no greater leveller than when, after a successful photographic session with a youngster that you are sure was facilitated because you convinced yourself that “it” loved you as much as you would like to love “it”, you look over your shoulder and find the parents two feet behind you tossing a coin to see who gets first crack at your juicy bits!