Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Short-Eared Owl / A Timely Reminder?

Short-Eared Owl at Pagham Harbour

On Sunday I escaped the confines of every day mundanity and spent the day doing what I love... kneeling in wet grass, trudging through sticky silt and mud (that at times I wasn't sure I would be able to remove my feet from) and breathing the beautiful Sussex air. Oh yes - and imprinting the lives of animals onto a crop sensor comprised of photosensitive diodes.

I started at Petworth, checking on what the Fallow Deer were up to, then moved on to Pagham Harbour for the rest of the day. High tide was higher than I'd expected, so I initially concentrated my efforts in the bushes and scrub that lined the paths on the Western side. This proved rather disappointing. A few Goldfinches flitted between the bushes, stocking up on the plentiful supply of berries; Starlings danced around the Lagoon and a young fox slept partially obscured by long grass. I moved on, heading North - I had hoped to make the North Wall but a chance encounter with a birder delayed me somewhat and diverted my attention. He'd flushed a Short-Eared Owl from scrub alongside a field and kindly gave me directions to the location. I managed to hide my ignorance when asked if I'd seen any Avocets on the Ferry Pool with a simple 'no, not yet...' when in reality I wouldn't have known one from a Flamingo (I have now righted that!) and headed off. After negotiating a footpath back to the coastline - despite having no real idea of where I was going - I found myself gingerly manoeuvring through mud, seaweed, grass and silt. The watery mud overtopped my boots and made for uncomfortable progress, but suddenly from the verge rose what initially appeared to be a huge Kestrel. As it turned to fly over the hedge, I saw the face was flat and a big golden eye sparkled in the sunlight - it was obvious that the creature was an Owl. I leapt over the stile and into a field, where he loitered before a murder of Crows took offence to his presence and saw him back over onto the coastal flat. Again I jumped over  (holding on to camera complete with fully-extended monopod for dear life) and fired off a few shots as he fleetingly headed in my direction before turning back toward the sea. I knew that it was too distant for the shots to be that good... but this was an experience I simply wanted a record of. Now I know it's there - and chances are it will stick for the winter - I'll be back; and trying to be a little more subtle and creative in my approach.

To be honest, it wasn't the most productive of days and (given my self-important ramblings last week) brought me back down to earth somewhat. I'm barely out of nappies in my photography life... I have a long way to go before I'm consistently getting brilliant images that I'm not only proud of, but make the people who look at them think "Wow!".  I sat down and reflected on this at the end of the day and thought about what my goals are from photography. I concluded that it's fairly simple - to convey the wonder of the natural world to others; make them see what an amazing planet we have been graced with and encourage them to protect (and improve) it for the benefit of all of its' inhabitants.

It was still a great day out and I've added a wonderful raptor to the list of those I can say I've seen in the flesh, in their natural habitat. For those interested in the technical details - this was shot at 1/1000, f/6.3 at 500mm (300 + 1.7 TC). RAW, Manual Exposure, Auto WB and 51-point 3D AF. Minimal editing (cropped and colours).

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Looking Ahead

Not even a week of GMT and it's sent me into near clinical depression! The thought that I'm a "weekend warrior" until March is not a pleasant one, so I've been thinking about my plans for next year. There are two (possibly three) Barn Owl pairs to follow - although this is highly dependent on females replacing the two that were lost in the summer, I remain cautiously optimistic on that front.  I'm determined to find and shoot a Kingfisher; I know of at least four birds in the area and it can't be that hard to track them down. Another target I've set myself is to find an Otter. I've never seen one in the wild, so that's probably a tough ask in Sussex where they are still rare, but I gather there are several rivers in the county with them present. One possible project I'm really excited about: I've recently discovered an active Badger set in woods not too far from home, which is just off a lightly-used public footpath. I'll be investing in a hide and developing a lighting setup - which will be completely new to me - to shoot the Badgers. I want to keep the bar high and push myself on both photographic and environmental knowledge - this includes starting the pursuit of an Environmental Science degree with the OU in early 2011. It'll take time, but I hope in the end it'll get me away from sitting on my backside all day in an office... I've realised in the past few months that outdoors is where I want to be - working to improve the world we live in. Preferably, that'll involve some photography as well. But even if it doesn't, I'll be a happy hobbyist.

I've spent a lot of time looking at the work of professional and well-known Wildlife Photographers lately and I'm convinced I can be as good as them. In fact, I don't think I'm all that far off - the difference is time and budget.  Maybe that's a bit arrogant - some of these guys have been doing it for years and have a wealth of experience of remote areas and wild animals that would happily chew on your gizzards given a chance - but it's a self-belief that at times I've lacked in other areas of my life. The very fact I have it spurs me on... I have a good grasp of the technical and lighting aspects of photography, bucket loads of patience and I know what I need to work on creatively.  I reckon I can get there with the right level of support and determination.

Monday, 1 November 2010


I'm not usually one for petitions; they rarely achieve what they set out to do. But this one is worth signing - even if the comments are largely from people concerned more about fishing than the effect Cormorants have on other wildlife.

Sign the petition to remove the Cormorants' status as a protected species