Friday, 17 October 2014

BWC Photographic Day

Red Squirrel

I joined in on one of our photographic days a few weeks a go, and after having rain on the open days I did and dark skies on the owl day I had... both! for the BWC photographic day. It seems my luck was against me, but I still had a great day, got a couple of photos I am very pleased with and for two brief spells we did get a bit off light piercing through.

As always, we started with our red squirrels. The rain was light, and the skies were dark hence the low aperture and high iso obviously visible in the photo above, but I have to confess I really like this one. Also goes to show, push the iso up if you have too! Better to have a slightly noisy photo which is sharp than a blurry photo with no noise.


We tried the foxes next, but they were having none of it so we had to move on to the wildcats. But since we usual do the foxes second I thought I would show those photos second here too.

This is where the real advantage of a photo day comes to. Having the keeper with you for the squirrels is great, as we can even move them to a certain extent on to logs and branches for natural photos, but with the foxes, wildcats and otters you get to enter the pens with them and not only have a keeper but also avoid the barriers/mesh fencing.


This gives you the chance to get some nice portraits, looking straight at you with a little help from a keeper, or off to one side.

Red Fox

The other advantage is being able to get close enough for something a little more abstract.

Fox Running

And if they are up for it, we can always get the animals moving a bit too for some action shots.


Next up is the wildcats. Once again, close up portraits is the obvious advantage, but we can get the cats running and even jumping for some great action shots. I didn't do too much with them during our session, but at the end of the day went back in of the last few minutes and with a brief spell of sunshine to take the photo above... one of my favourites from the day.

Wildcat Yawn

And who can resist a yawn shot when it shows itself!

Harvest Mouse

After the cats and before lunch, we bring out the hedgehogs and harvest mice for some more natural looking photographs on little sets. The mice are usually on teasel or corn and the hedgehog can be placed on the grass, bark or even leaves during the early autumn days.

Tawny Owl

We don't do too much with our owls, so as not to take away from our owl photographic days, but we do perch a tawny owl and barn owl for those who are interested and don't wish to come on one of our owl days. Ironically, this was my favourite photo of a tawny owl our of both our normal day and owl day I joined in on last month.

Blue Skies!

After lunch we start with the deer, and to be honest this is the one animal where there is not much difference to if you attended the keeper talk on an open day, but next is what I think is the best part of the day... going in with the otters. Once again it was very dull, but with a ten minute spell of beautiful blue sky! I just had to put on the wide angle to prove we actually did get a bit of light during this day.

Otter Swimming

With the otters we can get them on the bank, in the water and if they are up for it even a little bit of running. The big advantage here is you can get very low on the ground to get more intimate photos of them.


And as with the foxes and cats, it really shows the advantage of a photographic day over an open day. The low angle, inside the enclosure, and with a keeper keeping them interested and varying where they are.


At the end of the day we finish up with our stoats, weasels, polecats, mink and badgers. You have no extra access with these than you would on an open day, but having the keeper there does help. They can help position the animals a little bit, and make sure they are out for you to photograph. A little bit of food of course helps keep them interested.

Thanks for looking.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Cobwebs in the Dew

Dew drops on a cobweb

I love cobwebs at this time of year, especially early morning when they hold on to the dew droplets. I have never photographed them before, and have never really used my macro lens in this way before, so thought I would give it a go the other morning for ten minutes.


What I learnt... this type of macro photography is a very different ball game to wildlife photography. Hand holding is difficult, I don't like using a tripod for wildlife... too restricting, but I can see why many people of for macro. The depths of field are so shallow! Can lead to some brilliant effects though.


I've used macro for wildlife before, and a lot of the dancing adders from this year were taken with  my macro lens, but more practice and experience is needed for this real closeup stuff me thinks.


Thing is, although I appreciate good macro photography, I am not a huge fan of it myself. So although I would like to give it another/better go at some point, I will still mainly be putting on a larger lens for some nice mammal shots.




I got carried away with the macro and went for something really arty in the end, and with more colour.

Autumn Leaf

Thanks for looking.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Little Owl Wall

The Wall

The "Wall"!..

Often mocked and belittled, but much loved after spending just a little time with it. It has been through a few incarnations over the past few years, and currently above it is on its third lease of life.

We use this as one of our sets/perches for our little owl on our owl photographic days, and the reactions are often quite fun from the photographers. Some get on with it and seem to see the potential from the start, others seem to take some photos out of pity and just to not make us feel bad and I have even had some in the past not take any photos at all. But given a little patience and imagination, and it really can be a great set which leads to some nice photos.

Little Owl, Scrappy

Of course you can get some nice closeups of one of our little owls, Scrappy in this case, sitting nicely in the gap in the wall.

He loves his wall

But it's real beauty is shooting from an angle. If framed right this can look as if it is a section of a long wall going off in to the distance.

Scrappy doing his "Harry Worth" Impression

Angled even more extreme and you can get some quirky little portraits.

Little Owl Peeking

And it has been built, thrown together, in a way that in can be used from both sides.

Evening Little Owl

Not bad for a pile of a few old stones.

Thanks for looking.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

BWC Owl Day

Snowy Owl

Following on from my photos taken on an open day, here are a few photos I took on an owl day I joined in on a couple of weeks ago. This is for the third of three bits I am writing, the pics from the second (a BWC Photo Day) I will post in a week or so.

As with the open day, the weather was not great. It didn't rain... which would of stopped the owls all together, but there was no light for most of the day with very little light for the rest of it! However, we of course soldier on, and overall I was pleased with a few of the ones I got.

Snowy Owl Feathers

We always start off with the snowy owl and the short eared owl on our owl days, as they are the ones which are more likely to get fed up sooner. Don't get me wrong, they are both still used to cameras and do settle, but they also call time sooner than the others.

Hedwig, our snowy owl, is always difficult as his natural setting would deb in the snow. But we place him on the ground for some more natural pics and put him on a large post for some portraits. The portrait above is not necessarily natural, but it makes a nice picture and we find a lot of photographers that come on our days are just interested in that.

With the light particularly poor first thing I took a lot of more abstract stuff, and was particularly pleased with the close up of the feathers above.

Short-eared Owl

Once Hedwig has had enough, we move on to Fawkes out short-eared owl. This is another ground nesting bird, and so we try to find areas in the rough grass to make it a bit more natural. In amongst the more marsh type reeds and tussocky grass. However, on the day there was a lovely patch of daisies and I just couldn't resist a "pretty" picture of him surrounded by them.

With all our owls we try to place them in two or three different places for you to photograph them. Some more natural, and others for simple portraits, and we are always open to new ideas of where to try them.

Short-eared Owl

I think Fawkes is a stunning owl, and short-eareds are possibly my favourite owl in the world. On a post he makes for a beautiful portrait.

Long-eared Owl

Usually next up on our list would be one of our tawny owls, but with the light so dire we decided to stay more in the open and brought out Archimedes... our long-eared owl. He was having a bit of an off day and was very sleepy, so we didn't see much of his eyes.

Long-eared Owl

When a bit of light did appear for the briefest of moments, we rushed in to the woods with him to place him on one of my favourite sets. Unfortunately again... his eyes remained closed, but I did manage to get these two in a short period when he was alert. The close up above...

Long-eared Owl

... and a much wider one too. I have photographed Achimedes here so many times, I was looking for something a bit different to what I normally do. I'm not sure if this really worked, but still it is good to try!

Tawny Owl

Staying in the woods it was time for the tawny owl, and we used Florence. Our tawnies are often the stars of the show, and I could happily photograph just them all day! There are so many options as to where to put them that we really need to keep an eye on the time to make sure we don't spend to much time with them.

Florence Preening

All our owls settle fairly quickly, but Florence is such a pro now that she immediately forgets that the cameras are there and just watches the world or even preens herself.

This is where we usually call for a break, and stop for some lunch and a swap around with the owls. After the quick change around we are then ready for the afternoon of owl photography.

Little Owl Peeking

This normally starts off with our little owl, Scrappy! He is such a character, and makes for some amazing photographs. I built a little stone wall a couple of years a go (re-built a few times since), and most people laugh when they see it... but framed int he right way it offers some great photo opportunities. I will do a post later in the week showing just the wall.

One of my favourites of the day was this one above of Scrappy half hidden half seen in the nook in the wall.

Wild Fox

While photographing Scrappy in the wall, we had a visitor who wanted to join in! He didn't stay long after seeing us.

Little Owl

Often we just place the little owl on the ground too. They eat a lot of invertebrates, and so it is not rare to see them on the ground beetling for food.

Barn Owl

Next up are the barn owls. You have probably seen lots of barn owl photos from our owl days before, we have a beautiful old gate which we perch them on, and a hide we can get them peeking around as above.

Barn Owl in Flight

The barn owl is one of two owls we fly on the day too. We also fly the tawny owl in the woods if it is light enough, or down one of the tracks more in the open if the light is not too great.

Barn Owl Panning

With movement I often try to do a bit of panning with a slow shutter.

Ethel, European Eagle Owl

We then finish the day with Ethel, our European eagle owl. Again ground shots in the dead bracken look quite nice, and we also have an old rotten tree trunk which makes the perfect perch for her to sit on.

All the photos above where taken on the same day, on one of our owl days, and with no advantages over what you get if you come along to one of them. Overall I was very happy with what I got considering the conditions, and extremely pleased with two or three of them.

For the article I have been asked to use a variety of photos over the past year to show what is possible in different situations for both this and the BWC photographic day. I may well post these pics later in the year too to show you what was used.

Thanks for looking.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Red Squirrels

Red Squirrel

A few red squirrel pictures, in no particular order...

I have a soft spot for red squirrels. It is the animal I extensively studied at college and in particular for my final project on stereotypical behaviour, in a kind of way it is one of the ways/reasons I initially got my foot in the door here at the BWC, I have been a part getting our squirrels to where they are today, a part in setting up the first walkthrough red squirrel enclosure in the UK, a part in releasing these animals back to the wild and a soft spot for them just because they are so damn beautiful!

Above is one of my earlier photos of a red squirrel, and one of the first ones I took with what was my new lens but now my old trusty 70-200. I am sure you all recognise it as a cropped version is the BWC Blog banner.

Red Squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris

You can not beat a simple portrait, and our enclosure offers the perfect place to get this. A little bit of soft backlight to lift it and you have something special. Of course what really makes it special is that it is a red squirrel.

Reds are of course our natives, with greys coming from America around 135 years ago. Now reds have dwindled to only around 140,000... I have some people telling me, thats not too low, but when you realise grey squirrels now number well over 3million!... It gives you an idea of how drastically the reds are outnumbered.

Squirrel Advert

This is a newer version of the above, and a new one for Liza to play around with. All the space makes a good place for text to go.

Reds have several troubles form the greys, and I won't go into it too much here, but the biggest problems are food competition and disease with the squirrel pox virus claiming a lot of red squirrels and being helped spread by the greys.

Bat Squirrel

This is Nutkin doing one of her famous bat impressions... you have to have one squirrel called Nutkin don't you!?. She is not her best at the moment, a nasty abscess on the side of her face, but she is currently isolated and under vet supervision and doing very well. I hope to have her back out to see you all in a week or so.

All this threat from the greys, and many no believe that the reds only have another 20 years on the mainland before they are extinct. If true that is a frightening guess. We do of course still have them on some of the islands though such as Brownsea, Isle of Wight and of course now Tresco.


We breed a lot of squirrels here and off site at other collections who are part of our breeding group. We aim to release red squirrels in many areas to create pocket populations to ensure they stay in this country as long as possible. If there is ever a chance to release on the mainland, then of course we then have small populations we can draw from potentially.

Leaflet Cover

This one above is the current leaflet cover.

There are a lot of groups around the country trying to work towards saving the red squirrel, good news of course, but many don't seem to talk or co-operate with each other which is a real shame. Difference in opinions seem to halter progress in many areas, but I guess that is true in all aspects of life. I just wish everyone would work together for the good of the cause and put egos aside sometimes.

Ear Tufts

Those funky ear tufts above are arguably the red squirrels main feature. Many don't realise they only have them on during the winter, moulting them off for the summer.

David is working closely with the Countryside Conservation Trust with many of our squirrel projects, and always looking for new places to release them. A lot of islands crop up in conversation, including one you will here more about soon for this years release, but many stop before they have even started. One opposing thought to a lot of the smaller islands releases are if the squirrels have ever been there historically, but then when half our wildlife on the mainland is introduced does it matter?

Yawning Squirrel

A lucky shot of this one yawning one morning :-)

They are beautiful animals, and are so much prettier than the grey squirrel in my opinion. They are smaller, about half the weight, and lankier in build. Their legs are similar in size to a grey squirrel but a smaller body. This makes them far more athletic and agile, and this shows true in their much more arboreal lifestyle.

Super Squirrel

Perfectly adapted for the trees, and run and almost fly through them with ease.

The grey squirrel is a difficult one for me... They are invasive... they shouldn't be here... they are pushing out our native red squirrel with relative ease... if there was a button to press to eradicate them all and allow red squirrels to come back, I would press it without hesitation. BUT...

It is not their fault, it is our interference as always which brought them here. The fact is there is no button, and if the reds do die out on the mainland and it is a choice between grey squirrels or no squirrels I would reluctantly chose the grey. And perhaps most importantly, they are one of very few wild animals that children get to see growing up... especially in an town or city. Many children in these places have the grey squirrels as one of their only connections to wildlife, they may not even know that there is a red squirrel never mind that it is the red which is our native. If the grey can be a way for these children to have inspiration and compassion to wildlife then it has to be a good thing.

Souvenir Guide Cover

One of my older portraits, and still one of my favourites. This is on the cover of our current guide book, and another in the sequence has been used for a magazine cover in the past.

Flame, a young Red Squirrel Kitten

Red squirrel babies are called "kittens". We are very successful in breeding them here, but do occasionally have youngsters that need a little help. As a general rule of thumb we never get involved, and leave all the hard work to mum... she knows best... but if it is obvious that one of them has been abandoned then I will do my best to be a foster.

I have reared many squirrels in the past, above is "Flame" which some of you may remember. She used to spend a lot of time in my fleece pocket, and just climb around me while out walking around the park and talking to people. She was amazing, and one of my favourites if I am allowed them. She eventually went to live in the walk through enclosure.

The bleach white tail and ear tufts were stunning, and something we occasionally see in other squirrels we breed here. They have always slowly darkened with age, but we do have some very blond kittens this year and so it will be interesting to see how they mature.

Auburn and Kittens

One of the very first photos I ever took with a DSLR, possibly even within my first 10 and definitely within my first 100. Taken on a Canon D40. Far right is another of my favourites, Auburn, with three of her kittens on an old feeding stump. She was a great mum, and very successful for us here.

Thanks for looking.