Sunday, September 22, 2013

Brown and Red

As usual through this year I have spent some time photographing Brown Hares. There are two main reasons for this, one being that they are always great fun to photograph and secondly the hare site is close to home which allows me to pop in to undertake short evening sessions. The photographs in this post have mostly been taken in the evening when the light has been low, as you can tell by the size of the hares' pupils in some of the images,  and on these occasions the superb high ISO performance and autofocus capabilities of the Canon 1DX has really paid dividends.

A hare in full flight. These animals can hit about 40 mph at full speed. This one is being chased by another which is just out of frame.

For the next photograph a rather unusual setting for some hares in woodland by the edge of the field. You often see hares in pairs with a male guarding the female, having won her affections, from the attentions of other males.
A hare sat amongst some dandelion and bluebells, catching the last rays, just as the sun is about to disappear below the horizon.
During one stage in the late spring there were large numbers of dandelion around that had gone to seed. The hares spend a good deal of time targeting them as part of their diet and always eat their way down the stem from the bottom.
Another hare in flight. The speed that they can turn at full speed is  amazing and makes for some tricky tracking with the camera sometimes.
Of course some of the best moments are when you occasionally get a hare running straight towards you and it just keeps getting larger and larger in the camera view until you can no longer fit it in frame.
My favourite time with hares though is when you are lying down next to them at very close range. From this perspective with some careful position and an open lens the grass can be rendered in a green mist by the shallow depth of field.
Of course the other advantage of the evening sessions is that occasionally you are rewarded with a bonus and some luck. As I was driving down the road something caught the corner of my eye and it took a few moments to register what I had seen. I reversed back up and there,  sat relaxed  in the open, was one of the most beautiful vixen I have seen in some soft evening light. She just sat there staring straight at me through those soft amber eyes, before deciding it was too much effort on a summer's evening and lay down to take in the last of the day's warmth and light. Just a magical encounter.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Spring Water Vole Patrol

It is with some relief that I have finally got my Romania blog posts finished off. It took much longer than anticipated as there were many photographs to go through. So now I can get back to what I have been doing in the UK this year and have lots of interesting images to bring you that include water voles, hares, green woodpeckers, ospreys and kingfisher. The water voles and green woodpeckers I have put quite a bit of effort into this year and enjoyed every moment of it. So I will start the ball rolling with some spring Water voles.

Regular readers will know that I started photographing water voles last year, thanks to being show some locations by Kate the very knowledgeable vole expert. Many thank once again for showing me the world of water voles to which I have become a lifelong fan :). Unfortunately I did not have time to put much effort into this last year, and so thought I would try a bit harder in this one at the same canal site. It is not the easiest site for photography due to various constraints but I always like a challenge.  My plan on this long-term project was to spend my time this year thinking about techniques and approaches to improve the images and importantly learning more about the voles. I am hoping to put all I have learnt this year, which has been a great deal,  into a final concerted effort next year to hopefully realise the virtual photographs in my head.

My first visit was back in April, which was mainly a reconnaissance visit to check the voles were still present. My main concern was that an American mink may have found the colony and wiped it out. As I pulled into the parking area all my fears subsided as there sat on the far bank on the canal, in the early sun, was a water vole nibbling away on some grass. A promising start but those photographs were the only one from that visit, although I did spot a couple more voles and there were several typical signs of activity.
 As you can see in the photograph below. The water vole is on top of some fabric which has been used to repair the bank in this section of the canal and one of the reasons why the vole thrive here as they are able to gnaw through the fabric to make their burrows. Obviously this is something they are not able to do on the more usual concrete canal banks! Other key reasons why they are present is an undisturbed far bank of the canal, the lack of mink and also importantly the maintenance of a buffer strip of vegetation between the canal and adjoining agricultural fields. It shows that a few simple vole-friendly measures can greatly assist in providing suitable habitat for this rapidly declining mammal. Depressingly national survey results released last week showed there had been another estimated 20% drop in the water vole population, although I think part of this result may be due to marked reduction in surveying effort.

Given that the spring had been so delayed by the cold conditions I did not visit the site again until early May, when I figured there would be more activity, and undertook a further two morning sessions during this month before having to head off to Romania. These sessions proved productive and I managed to capture a good number of water vole images but was also starting to get a better handle on their behaviour and routines. I must admit I have become addicted to water vole photography which I find very relaxing, although does require some patience, and it is always a real pleasure to watch the antics of these very endearing animals.

A selection of images from these Spring sessions are shown below.

Just about to drop into the canal with that characteristic 'plop' which I am constantly listening out for.

There are very few places for the water voles to sit at water level in the canal. This one is a perched on an old rusty bolt.
Appearing through a hole in the fabric.
Swimming along like a mini beaver
and taking some dry grass back to burrow

I have witnessed the water voles eating some unusual vegetation, in this case some ivy which I always thought was fairly inedible.
It is now time to introduce you to one particular vole which I have been watching in particular and learning its routine and with which I spent a good deal of time during the late summer observing and photographing. So expect to see some more photographs of it in a future water vole blog post.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Roaming in Romania - Day 9: Full Circle

Four weary photographers head forth on the final session of our photography tour of Romania. Three of us had opted for another session with the technicolour bee-eaters whilst Michael decided to go off stalking larks and bunting in the minibus with Zoltan. The two temporary hides was set-up once again next to the sandbank with the bee-eater colony with Hans in one and Rene and I sharing the other. I had decided for this session I would try and get some bee-eater flight photos as I have none in my library at the moment. I took a couple of portrait photos, while waiting for the light to increase,  before getting down to the business of some flight images.
Being squashed into a pop-up hide with someone else whilst trying to do flight photos is not ideal or particularly easy so all you can do is try and make best of the session and I managed to come away with a few photos before the minibus returned to collect us.

Our final moments of the trip with the cameras were spent near trying to photograph some Spanish sparrow around a car park area and some kind of visitors centre. However, my attention was drawn to a Crested Lark gathering insects  and also a very dirty looking Stork that passed very close by on slow powerful wing beats with a beak full of nest material.

As we drove back to the main road we came across a couple of yellow wagtails and a Great Reed Warbler. The latter kept climbing songs before bursting into its loud warble. This proved to be my last photograph of the trip. I had finished the visit to Romania photographing the same species as my first photographs in the country. I had gone full circle and the trip was complete.
It was just a question now of the the minibus journey back to Bucharest, two flights back to Manchester and a car journey home. I finally got home around 9:30pm in the evening having gained 2 hours time difference en route.

Overall it had been a very memorable trip. I had enjoyed it as the photographs did not always come easily and you had to work to get the images but that made it all the more rewarding. I also really liked the mobile aspect of this trip rather than being locked down in fixed hides for a week on standard perch set-ups. Eastern Europe really is a wonderful place for the bird photographer and I will definitely be returning again in the future.

So to finish off I would like to express my thanks to:

  • Zoltan for working tirelessly to make sure all went smoothly and using his magic bird locating powers. 
  • To the boatman for his excellent boat handling skills on the Danube Delta.
  • Rene, Hans and Michael for being such excellent company on the trip.
  • To Sakertours for another superb and extremely well organised trip. 

Thanks for following me on my roamings around Romania and I will be returning to some UK mammals in my next post.


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