08 July 2009

Yorkshire Wildlife & Landscape Photography Workshops

I am currently planning my workshop programme for next year, which will include some new subjects and locations. I have recently agreed on a beautiful location for a couple of photography courses on plants, butterflies and dragonflies - in a semi-private bluebell wood near to Wetherby. Fingers crossed - I may also be able to provide a workshop for guaranteed red squirrels..! The birds of prey photography workshops continue to be very popular and are great fun. They are also an ideal way of practising your skills in wildlife photography.

I have recently set up a group on Flickr: Yorkshire Wildlife and Landscape Photography for participants of workshops to share their images. This is a great way to show people how we do things, and what pictures are possible. Here are just a couple of my images from past bird of prey courses in North Yorkshire.

01 July 2009

The Mirage of the Meadow

The last few months have been great for wildlife photography - and if I haven't always bagged the shots I wanted (on numerous occasions), I have at least witnessed some wonderful sights and revelled in the sheer joy of watching our British wildlife. Back in March I saw my first water vole, followed by another sighting last week. These squat little mammals are magical creatures, and I am figuring out the best plan to optimise potential images... it may take a while! I have had a number of other sightings too, including baby long tailed tits, running roe deer, a family of red grouse, and a mid air scrap between a sparrowhawk and heron..! But there is one experience which for me tops them all, and one which has left me both exhilarated and inspired...

It was two summers ago when I first witnessed a short eared owl on the local farm. Watching from the roadside, I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, as this stunning bird methodically quartered the meadow in broad daylight. After this sighting, I never saw the bird again... until a couple of weeks back that is. Again the bird looked like it had been there for ever, as it repeatedly quartered the fields and flew around the hedgerows. A few evenings later, from the edge of the field, I was witnessing the same thing yet again, although on this occasion I was much closer. Camera in hand, I made my way slowly forward, keeping low in the grasses thinking, "there could be a grab-shot here." However, no sooner did I realise the bird was out of view, than a huge flying owl was virtually upon me. With purposefully direct flight, I watched the owl zip over my head, complete with hanging vole in tow. Instinct told me that I might be able to watch this bird at closer range. My 'roe deer' hide is situated at the edge of the buttercup meadow, and it was over this exact field that the owl was hunting. Knowing that owls can be creatures of habit, and thinking that this day might just happen to coincide with an abundance of voles for some reason, I headed for the hide...

In my hide I was now completely hidden, and perfectly situated at the field edge, should the owl return. Sure enough, my instincts were right, and within less than ten minutes the short-eared was back. It was clearly favouring this one buttercup meadow. I watched in amazement as the bird repeatedly quartered the meadow, covering almost every inch of ground. I was surprised to see just how agile the owl was, being able to change direction incredibly quickly and even do a good job of hovering at times. Every so often the bird would switch direction and disappear from view, as it dropped into the buttercups. The hit rate for this bird seemed impressive, and I watched it catch three voles in less than an hour, before making a bee-line across the hedgerow (surely a nest somewhere...)
This was a memorable experience to say the least. Photography wise I managed some pleasing flight shots - a little far away, but they did show the evironment well. That high impact flight shot with lovely back-lighting above the buttercups just didn't materialise... but the experience pretty much made up for it. This would have to go down as one of the the 'wildest' experiences I've ever had. To watch this wild bird of prey so intimately, and truly at ease, was indeed a privilege.

And what since that wild encounter..? Well, just like the previous years... the owl now seems to have completely vanished - just like it was never even there. I could be forgiven for thinking that I dreamt it... but this time I have the pictures to prove the owl is real!