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 :-)