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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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”.

 European Rabbit

 

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!

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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!