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.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Otters on Ice

Otters on ice

I had a series of photos of our otters playing on the ice of their ponds in the national papers a few years a go. It was one of the first sequences I had published, and although I look back and think the photos could have been better, I am still very pleased to have been able to share them on such a large scale.

The photo above of two of our old otters on the ice together was the one that really caught the eye of many. Below are a few more from that series and others where ice was involved.

Walking on Ice

I know it is currently very warm out there, but I was asked to share these after the snow photos... so rather than leave it and inevitably forget, I thought I would put them up today.

On the Ice

Minnie was one odour original otters, and one of the first I ever worked with... pictured above... Sadly no longer with us.

Walking on Water

I love it when the top of the ponds are iced over, but still fluid on the surface. It makes it look like they are walking on water.

Climbing onto Ice

Often they swim under the ice and then break through and climb up on to the surface of it.

Swimming under the Ice

Swimming under the ice they seem to really enjoy, and often chase each other. One swimming under the ice one running on the surface of the ice. It is such fun to watch.

Minnie on the Ice

Our ponds really do ice up most years. Last winter was very mild, but in previous years the ice on the surface has got quite thick offering great chances to photograph them on top of it. I remember doing a piece for a local paper a couple of years a go about our otters on ice, and got completely misquoted... first time I realised first hand to take what is written in papers with a pinch of salt. I think I was asked what I thought of Celebrity Dancing on Ice, to which I replied "I don't know, I don't watch it" and got quoted as saying "They are otterly at home on the ice, and would give the celebrities a real run for their money. I think some "celebrities" name would not have a patch on Minnie on the ice." or something like that.

Falling through the Ice

They don't know how thick the ice is, or how thin it is, and so sometimes they do just fall through it while walking on the surface.

Otter through a Fish-eye

My most well known icy photo. This is Grace, and she has now toured the country in many a gallery!

Running on the Ice

One of my oldest, and still one of my favourites. Minnie running on the ice in the snow one year.

Thanks for looking.

Monday, 15 September 2014

BWC Open Day

Flo the Fox

I am currently in the process of writing three articles about the BWC in terms of photography. One showing the opportunities a photographer can have if they come along when we are open to the public, another showing what we can offer a photographer on one of our dedicated photographic days, and yes... you guessed it... the last one all about our owl photographic days.

To do this I wanted to obtain all the photos I used from the actual day, as if it was that experience we offer that I was attending. I joined in on our owl day last week for article number three, have booked in to one of our normal photographic days later this month, and went over to work on an open day during the summer spending the day with my camera...

... well, two days actually. I had to cheat on the open day one, as I kept getting called away to do jobs and talk to people.

Anyway, here are some of the better photos I took on the open days. I will be choosing a handful of these to illustrate my writing later this month.

Red Squirrel

I made sure I was at the Centre as if I was going there as a member of the public for a day out with my camera. If I was to go to a zoo or wildlife centre, my main aim would deb to try and get some nice portraits of the animals, and to spend the whole day there to enjoy what they had to offer.

Our first talk is the red squirrels at 10.30am. Unfortunately for the two days I was there with my camera, the weather was not great. Once was showers on and off, the other was very overcast, but still the opportunities were great... not that I am biased :-)

I got lucky with where he squirrel decided to eat her hazelnut above for a nice quirky shot.

Red Squirrel

The squirrels were not on the best form on the day I was there, but I still managed to get a few photos I was pleased with. Even changing angle slightly as above gave me a better angle for something a little different.

Red Squirrel

For those that have seen a lot of my photos, you know I like space... It's nice to give the animals room to breath in the frame, but I also get nagged by Liza in the office for blank space to put text on! This now follows me even in my own photography.

Squirrel with Tom

Perhaps the best thing with the squirrels are the way they interact with people and the keepers. This is one of our squirrels sat on Tom's shoulder while he was talking to a member of the public.


After the squirrels I moved on to the fox talk. I got there a bit late, having spent too much time with the squirrels... You really need to follow the talks to get good views of the animals, but more so turn up a little early. The animals are likely to be out waiting, and you get a better chance to position yourself to where you want to be. I was off at an angle, and it made it trickier to photograph through the wire, but in the end I managed to get some photos of Frodo peeking through foliage.


Perhaps my favourite of the foxes that day, Frodo... most photographed fox in the world!


The wildcat talk was next, and I am not going to lie, this is difficult... very difficult from a photography point of view on an open day. You can focus through the netting, but the angle is all wrong. I went down on the flat by the door to get a lower angle, but then backgrounds were difficult. I had to be happy with closer framed head shots, and to get something a bit more interesting I waited until just after the had eaten to get some licking lips action.


I love our otters, and made sure I got there a little earlier than when the talk was about to start. This gave lots of time to get a few portraits.


And a few pulled back with a bit of the habitat in them.

Otters Playing

Something I usually tell the public after the talk is to hang around for ten minutes. Often the two boys start to have a bit of rough and tumble, and it is amazing to see. I got lucky... they did start to play with each other which is not unusual, but what was lucky is they where right out in the open. I stayed there for quite a while, and this was my favourite of that session.

Fallow Fawns

Just down from the otter ponds is our deer platform for the deer talk. I made sure I was there a few minutes early, as once the deer are over eating they are too close for me and you end up shooting down on them. Getting there early allows you to photograph them running over for there food. I got a quick snap of our four fallow fawns together.

Red Deer

And then managed to get Albus trotting over, leading the herd, to see what was on offer.

Tawny Owl

I missed out the hedgehog talk. It is possible to get photos of them, but it is more geared towards showing the hedgehogs off to people and allowing them to get up close and personal to learn more about them. I therefore took that time to grab a quick bite to eat, and have a walk around. Our new aviaries offer limited opportunities for photographs, but due to there habitat themed pens at the right angles you can get something.

Owls "Out and About"

Of course our owls are often out and about on a walk, and I couldn't resist a quick snap of these two above in this composition.


And then the classic close up of Ethel which everyone seems to do.

Roe Deer

A little time to wander around is good, it gives you a chance to see the other animals we have not with a keeper talk. First thing I always recommend the water voles, and keep an eye out for the snakes too, I spent my spare time with the roe deer.


Some of our talks are repeated. I made sure I was back at the foxes in time to get a better position, and once again photograph Frodo.


Likewise with the wildcat repeat, I waited at our other enclosure to get some close ups of Macavity through the wire. This above photo was through the inch mesh, and from behind the standoff barrier... all these photos were taken in conditions exactly as what our members of the public have when they visit us. It goes to show with the right setting etc, you can avoid the barriers and wire.


I skipped the otter talk in the afternoon, knowing I would be back there for the main feed, and went to wait up by the badgers. While there I spent some time with our stoats.


Our stoats are often out waiting around the badger talk time, knowing they will be being fed soon.


Likewise with our polecats.


And then off to the badger talk to get some photos of them. The badgers are great, and there are not many places you get to see them out in the open in the daylight. The thing you need to watch out for are the backgrounds. The way our pen is set up, it is easy to get the green tin in the picture. therefore you need to be at the right angle, or focus on close ups as I did on that day.

Pine Marten

I wasn't expecting anything with the pine martens. Bonnie's pen is dark, and they are quick, and the wire mesh is tight. I had to go and see them of course though, any excuse, and was happy with this one above.

Daisy with Ethel

Last up for out keeper talks is the owl display. I didn't even bother trying with flying owls... I am sure it is possible in its very limited way, but knowing that our display is geared up with the public in mind and not photographers I though I would focus on the keeper interaction again, and get them flying the owls.


At the end of the day we have the last few feeds to do. Many people leave after the owls, and so it is often quieter and the animals a little more active. Tips for you all... red squirrels and water voles at this time are good! I went to the otters for their main feed. Purely just to watch, but I took a few snaps at the same time.

One of the great things about the centre it the other wildlife around. Out on our boardwalk/reserve as you would imagine, but even just around the centre. I found this spider below eating a fly, so took a few pictures of that too!


May I remind you all that all these photographs were taken in conditions our members of the public have on an open day. I did not enter any enclosures, I did not cross any stand off barriers and had no favours from the keepers. I will admit to one advantage though. Even in plain clothes, a lot of the animals ran over to me and looked at me while I was outside.

In conclusion, and yes I am very biased, but I really think what we have on offer from a photographic point of view, even on an open day, is brilliant! I doubt many similar places out there could beat us. To come away with a mix of photos of different animals is great. I would keep in mind spending the whole day here, and following the talks. From a visiting photograph point of view, if I was to return, I think I would chose just a few of the animals and spend more time at there enclosures waiting for something a little more different/unusual to happen to photograph, but I would very much look forward to doing so!

Thanks for looking.