Monday, September 10, 2012

Return to Stoats

Long-term readers of this blog may recall the photography session I had last summer with a family of Stoats on the edge of an estuary. I know that the Stoats have been present in this particular area for a number of years and so decided a return visit was called for this summer to see if I could repeat what had been such a memorable encounter. I have thought about that day a great deal in the intervening period, as it had been such a wonderful experience to be in prolonged close proximity to these amazing animals.
With wildlife photography much of the success is down to timing, and of cause a certain element of luck, as for many species there is a small window of opportunity when the chance of getting photographs are highest.  Over my years of photography I have built up a mental calender of where the best opportunities may lie at different times of year. However, that never guarantees success especially with the impact that the vagaries of the UK climate in recent years and the influence it appears to be having on food availability, breeding cycles and migrations. Having said that most wildlife tends to stick to fairly rigid patterns of timing, give or take a few weeks, that has be honed by thousands of millennia of evolution.  This is why rapid climate change may prove to be devastating to many species as it occurs over a much short timescales than the animals are able to adapt.

Typically given the UK summer this year, the day I had chosen was overcast with intermittent rain and not ideally light for photographing these hyperactive mini predators. I arrived at first light and started my search. Three fruitless hours later and I was starting to think the session was going to be a non-event, when in my peripheral vision I spotted some movement along the rocks at the edge of the estuary. At first I dismissed this as probably being a bird but went to investigate to find a young stoat peering out of the boulders. The search was over and the hard task of photographing stoats amongst piles of rocks began. As you can see from the photographs some of the stoats had a heavy burden of ticks in their ears.

One of the adults appeared and disappeared quickly along the beach leaving the seven nearly fully grown young at the temporary den. Over the next 90 minutes I was in for a real treat as several young would appear at once to explore their surroundings, giving a reasonable amount of photo opportunities at close range. This included some play fighting to hone their future hunting skills on the estuary mud and seaweed and a fixation with a reinforcing bar sticking out of the rocks which provided them with some climbing practice.

As with the year before it was such a pleasure being in close proximity to the group who were oblivious to my presence, as I sat very quietly and still close-by. Such an encounter is a real privilege as the most many see of a Stoat is a blur of fur running across the road or disappearing into the undergrowth. 
After a 90 minute absence I saw at distance a paler coloured adult running very quickly across the boulders, back towards the young, and carrying some prey. The course of the speeding adult took it right past where I was sat but I still only managed one photograph that I was happy with. As I said before photographing stoats is not easy. At first I though the prey was a young moorhen but looking at the images when I got home I think it is a young Wood Pigeon that was on the 'breakfast menu'.
The adult dragged the pigeon under the boulders into the temporary den and was quickly followed by the disappearance of all the young. I knew that I was now in for a wait and lull in activity as the meal was eaten and probably followed by a sleep. A further 90 minutes past before the first youngster's head appeared out of the boulders.
The lone adult then decided it was time to move the family on to another temporary den. A large group of stoats on the move is fascinating and like watching fluid fur flowing over the rocks. I was happy with the photographs from the morning and left the stoats to the rest of the day in the rapidly deteriorating weather and light. 
I will definitely be returning again next year to try and photograph the Stoats. It is already a fixture in the mental diary. Hopefully I will be able to find them and spend some time amongst them once again as it has, in my opinion, to be up there near the top with the most memorable wildlife experiences that the UK has to offer.


Dina J said...

Such an amazing little family. You really caught their personality and behavior. Great shots!

Nancy J said...

What a wonderful day!!! Super pics, I had no idea that the ferocious, as I had always thought, stoat was so photogenic, fur that shines, and almost smiles on the little faces.No wonder you will go back there again.Greetings from Jean.

Little Brown Job said...

Wonderful post Richard, a joy to read.

Jenny said...

Amazing series of images. Fascinating to spend time with that little family.

Oscar Dewhurst said...

Superb Rich, the best Stoat images I have seen


Jann said...

Wow, I just found your Blog from someone else's...beautiful photos of the stoats, and what an amazing experience to watch them in nature as you have.

Laura Delegal - Leroy Photography said...

Wow, what a wonderful adventure. I've never seen (or heard of) a sloat before. Incredible shots.

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Awe yes, I remember very well your shared images of the Stoats last season and wow, to get to do this all over again, how marvelous! The images then and now, stunning, such captivating creatures, love their colouration, those faces, and the action images, how wonderful! Thank you for sharing these beauties~

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Truly awesome shots!

Michael Gehrisch said...

Fantastic images!

Anonymous said...

Stunning photography and a really engaging blog. The Weasel and Stoat images are really special.


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