Friday, 30 October 2015

Autumn Hedgehog

Hugo the Hedgehog, in the Autumn leaves

Last week I saw that the trees not he edge of our picnic area had created a nice covering of fallen autumn leaves. A few years a go now I took a photo of a hedgehog in the yellow leaves, nicely back lit, and it went on to be one of my better known images. Having not taken any photographs for a while, I thought I would spend a bit of time int he leaves again... and it just so happens we have a willing hedgehog model in Hugo, hand reared by Tom earlier this year!

You will probably be bored of hedgehogs and leaves by the end of this post, the photos are quite similar, but I was pleased with what I got and wanted to share a few. The above two are possibly my favourites.

The top one is kind of what I had in mind when I started. Head on, looking straight at the camera, and with the golden colours completely surrounding him. The one above a bit more wide frame... those that know me, or know my photography, know that I like space in my pictures. Close crops are great, and I do my fair share of those too, but I don't know why, I just like space around the animals to allow them to breathe within the frame.

I had two attempts at this. The first day when I first saw the light on the leaves, we had twenty minutes before Tom had to rush off to do a talk. The light was great and I got some nice photos, but the leaves where not quite how I wanted them for the photo I had in mind.

Still got some nice ones though, and this one above is one of my favourites from those twenty minutes. I tried to do some backlit ones too, but the angle was just not quite right and I didn't get anything I was happy with.

I got a few strange looks from some of the visitors as we were open to the public, but it mean't they were able to get a close look at one of our hedgehogs enjoying himself in the leaf litter.

This one a bit of a different feel with a bit of grass coming through the leaves.

The second day I spent the morning looking around the Centre, getting a few strange looks from the keepers as I stood in several spots just looking into thin air... actually not too many strange looks, they are used to this sort of thing now :-)

I was looking for a better place to get the background I wanted... colour! Once I found it, I moved the leaves from the picnic area and created the set. The light was not as strong, and went completely after a few minutes hence why the leaves look less golden yellow and more autumnal... but I quite like that.

Izzy helped me this morning, and again we only had about twenty minutes... but Hugo was on form and gave me a few good goes.

We just put him in the leaves and let him do his thing! He loved it, foraging around and walking through them all.

I took several photos. Some closer up, some wider for a bit of variety.

But for each one I tried to fill the frame with the colour of the leaves. That was the intention of the whole shoot.

Lots of nice photos, I was pleased with what I got.

Thanks for looking :-)

Friday, 23 October 2015

Red Deer Rutting

Albus Dumbledeer and his girls. 

It is that time of year again, and our red deer are coming to the end of their rut. I love this time of year... The noise of the stags roaring, the sound of their antlers clashing, it really does echo around the whole Centre, but the thing that gets me the most every year is the smell!

It is such a shame that I can't share this with you through photos, but if you get the chance to visit us at this time of year, head down to see our deer paddock and just take a good breathe in... the smell is incredible, it really hits you hard. A kind of musky, sweaty smell but not as unpleasant as that sounds.

I have had little time to take photos this year unfortunately, and our mast stag is not in his real prime I would say, and the challengers are not there yet to make it a really good year... but there has been a lot of posturing, chasing, roaring and the like.

Some of these photos are from previous years, but some like the one above are this years. The rut is essentially the males competing over the females and preparing to mate with them. It is best looked at as a test of stamina. The rut will last for a few weeks over late September, early October, and during these weeks the stags rarely eat or sleep... they are too busy concerned with keeping the other males away and the females close with them.

They spend a lot of time testing to see if the hinds (females) are in season. This is often just chasing them around, sniffing their rear glands or the ground where they may have just urinated, often flicking their tongue in and out to help pick up the scent. But it also shows them doing this strange behaviour called flehming.

Flehming is when they curl back their upper lip and breathe in the scent in the air. By doing this they can moisten the air slightly, making it easier for them to pick up the scent to see if the hinds are in season yet.

Once they are in season, then the real battle begins to keep the other males away so they can keep the hinds to themselves while they mate with them all.

The stags need to make themselves seem bigger and more dominant. They will spend a lot of time decorating themselves in their own scent, to really make them stand out. This usually shows them urinating on themselves, and the ground around them... and then thrashing their antlers in the ground where they have just scented, and even rolling around in it too.

Once they are covered in their own scent, they often decorate their antlers with grass, branches and twigs etc from around the paddock.

If other males are around they will size each other up, and if needs be start to push and chase those other males away to leave themselves alone with the herd of females.

The much younger males pose no threat, and just bide their time on their own before being accepted back in to the group, but the slightly older ones take a bit more effort in keeping them away.

Whilst doing all of this, the master stag will be roaring to show off dominance and warn the other males away. He will continue to do this day and night while keeping the females together and other males away.

During the rut, the males get broader throats and enlarged scent glands under their eyes. Scent comes from these glands and helps create the smell in the air.

If none of this is enough to keep the other males away, then clashing of antlers may occur. The best rut I have witnessed here was a few years a go now between Eric and Alfie. I could of posted a few dozen images of just that, but thought this would be photo heavy enough with all of these.

They really go at it, little run ups and thundering claps of the antlers together. To be as close as I was was incredible, but I don't think I would get that close again. I knew Eric well, very well in fact, and knew I could get away with it. I don't trust Albus as much!

Look at how close they can get to damaging each other though, Eric's eye above in between two of Alfie's tines.

Eventually the victor walks off, tired, but with enough energy to show his dominance and continue to keep the hinds together.

And this is what it is all for... a chance to mate with the females when they are in season, so that later the following year they are the father of the calves.

Isn't she lovely?.. Worth competing for.

So this year our Master Stag is Albus Dumbledeer, and with out doubt he will be the one to mate with the hinds.

His challenger is Olivandeer, but as you can see he is still a bit smaller than Albus and not as bulked out at all. Will he challenge this year?.. Well, he hasn't yet, and I doubt he will. But next year he will be catching up in size, have a wider spread of antler, and so maybe... just maybe fancy he chances a bit. If he does, we will have clashing of antlers on our hands again, and hopefully be able to get some new photos.

Thanks for looking :-)

Friday, 2 October 2015

Adders Published

I mentioned having one of my photos published in a book recently, and finally it has come out. My photo above of two adders 'dancing' has been used for a new DK book, "Wildlife of the World'


I have been lucky enough to have my photos used in books before, all around the world, but this one I am particularly pleased with for two reasons...

1. It is one of my dancing adder photos! Obviously I am biased, but I think I have a good collection of adder dancing photos, and yet try as I may they never seem to do well in competitions or get chosen for publication. 

2. It is a DK wildlife book!

Dorling Kindersley are well known for their large, cram packed books on animals and wildlife. Perhaps most well known is their book "Animal" which I would guess most young people interested in animals, or wishing to work with animals, has or has had at some point on their book shelf... myself included. 

The book follows a similar style to their others... lots of animals with just a snippet of information on each and lots of lovely photographs. The kind of book you pick up and flick through at your leisure. If you like there previous books, you will like this one. 

There it is!.. Two of our adders are now famous!

So how did this come about?.. DK contacted us to photograph some of our animals for this book, they had a list of what they were after but wanted to come during the winter when some of the animals were in hibernation. We offered to let them use my photos for all of what they were after, but they wanted to take their own so they visited us for a couple of days earlier this year.

They made the most of their time, took the photos they wanted, and a few extras for their library incase they needed them for the future. But the ones they couldn't get where the hedgehogs and adders. They asked me to send them some pics for both to look at, but where going to look elsewhere too.

Anyway, my hedgehogs were obviously not good enough :-) but they took up this one of the adders, which is great! Nice to know one of my photos will be in a book that inspires so many people to love, care for and want to work with/conserve wildlife.

So who else made it to the book... in total, we had 5 of our animals in there. The two adders, two wildcats above. The main photo is MacTavish and the smaller pic above him is Macavity. 

And here is a beautiful photo of Honey, one of our badgers!

We got a lovely acknowledgement in the back of the book which I had to write for them, first Centre listed too! Thanks alphabetical order!

 Hey... there I am... Listed in the photography credits too.

Thanks for looking :-)

Friday, 25 September 2015

"Wild" Cats!

I haven't had much time to take any photographs lately, so when I was given a list of photographs that work wanted it didn't take me long to get  a little distracted!..

Some of you may already know, but the owner of the BWC, David Mills, is working on a children's DVD and accompanying book series. Series one is now out, and series two is due to be out in time for Christmas this year.  I was asked for a list of photographs a couple of months ago, but summer being so busy, just didn't have time to take them. Having been reminded on a few occasions that these were needed, I spent a little time the past couple of afternoons trying to get what they have asked for.

Having not taken any photographs for myself for a while, it didn't take long for me to make the most of a grumpy wildcat. Macavity, above and below, wasn't really in the mood for having his photograph taken. So I made the most of the situation to get a couple of nice snarling shots... something I am actually quite short on surprisingly!

The light wasn't the best, but then sometimes that can add to the mood, and I am really happy with the photos I got. After waiting for a while, I soon gave up on what was asked for, and went back the next day... both days keeper Meg helped me get the photos, and on this first day I have to say... I don't know who was more grumpy, Meg or Macavity!

So, what was the wildcat shot that was asked for?.. A cat washing...

OK. Difficult... You can't make a cat wash, not humanely anyway, so it would be a case of waiting. Could be ten minutes, could be ten hours. I din't have time for this so we just had to hope. Eventually on day two we got a bit of action, not sure if above is really suitable for a children's book.

Having no joy after half an hour, we tried feeding him. This usually leads to licking lips as above, which I hoped may lead on to something a bit more towards a full wash. No joy.

We then thought that he was distracted by the food, so Meg left me to it. After a few minutes ( I got lucky) he began to start having a full wash. Unluckily though, he was in the shade with the background in the bright midday sun!

Never mind though. He was washing, so I snapped away. Not the best photos by any means, but good enough with a touch of editing for a children's book, and shows off what was needed. 

As with last years shoots for series one book (you may remember I was photographing fallow deer for that) they wanted a mix of shots, landscapes and portraits, close ups and some with more space etc. Just a few posted here.

Another photo on Pip's productions team wish list... A hedgehog in a ball! How do you make that exciting? Anyway, again a variety of crops/compositions were asked for. Above was probably my favourite. 

Whilst we had Timone, one of our hedgehogs, out I took a couple of detail shots of her spines. I am working on a couple of projects, and by working on I mean thinking about but whether they will ever actually get done who knows?!! Any who, for one of these I need a photo like this so took the opportunity.

An even closer up of the spines. Look at the detail in the markings, incredibly beautiful... and makes you appreciate how sharp they can be! Bit of grass in the spines unfortunately, may have to do a re shoot next year, but good enough for now.

Finally, another work shoot for a different reason, but still related to Pip. David was interviewed for a magazine, and they wanted a few photographs of him with the squirrels. Usual stuff. David with one on him, feeding one, looking for one etc etc. All stage and mocked up of course. I won't bore you with them all, but I think this is the main one they went for. Quite a nice one of him actually, and look... he's smiling! This took much prompting and reminding by Liza :-)

Thanks for looking :-)

Friday, 18 September 2015

British Wildlife Photography Awards

Hazel Dormouse

The British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) are in their 7th year, and have just released their 6th collection book of the winning and commended images from this years competition.  After being successful in the past 4 years, I have been asked many times over the summer if I entered this year and if I got anything in.

To answer the first, yes... of course I entered! I love the BWPA. It celebrates both British wildlife and photography, one being a keen interest of mine and the other being my main passion in life! A competition like this needs to be supported, and I encourage photographers to the Centre every year to enter if they can.

To answer the second... unfortunately no... this is the first year I did not get recognised, in fact I didn't even get any shortlisted this year. Am I disappointed? Well yes of course, a little, but I think it would be a little weird if I wasn't being as proud of my photos as I am. But am I surprised?.. No, not really... I had heard rumours that they were really clamping down on photos that had been taken in captivity, which of course all of mine are, plus I entered photos this year that were a bit more unusual than perhaps I had in previous years.

The photos in this post are a few of the ones I did enter. The dormouse at the top peering through the hazel. Rare not to see an awake dormouse in a photo, and the secretive nature of this image lent itself well to the dormouse's nature I thought. 

The badger above taken last summer. One of my favourites, and a very similar styled image actually did make it in to the awards this year. 

Below taking the light and exposure a bit further on a flying barn owl, and at the bottom some dancing adders. I entered a few dancing adder photos, some straight forward ones, a couple of "arty" ones, but this being perhaps the most unique in terms of angle and view.

So, the collection book of this years BWPA arrived at the Centre yesterday and I couldn't wait to have a look through. It is an amazing collection of photographs of our wildlife... as with all competitions of course there were some I thought perhaps shouldn't of been in there, some that I thought were truly stunning and others that I wish I had seen/taken myself.

A lot of names in there that I recognise from photographers that have visited the Centre, a couple of professionals that are friends of the Centre... Andy Rouse and Danny Green did well this year too, but the photo that caught my eye the most was the front cover!

A beautiful photo of a bee sat on a flower and covered in pollen. It is a stunning photo, and taken by a friend of the Centre... Andy Sands.

Will I enter next year?.. Of course! But I will have to make sure I get some photos that are truly special and unique for a chance if taken here at the Centre. I often get people saying "Well, you're not a real wildlife photographer are you?" and my answer has always been "No, I'm an Animals I care for photographer" I have little desire to photograph "wild" animals, I prefer to just see them. I do however enjoy taking photographs of the animals I care for as souvenirs of my life and work.

So whats next... A few of my pictures have been used in books recently, one in particular which I am very excited about and will mention when published. I am also working on a couple of projects I hope to have out there early next year.

Thanks for looking :-) And if you do get the chance to see the BWPA book this year, or even better get to the exhibition, please do. Some amazing photographs on show!