NATURE

All images ©ericweight 2016

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Serious wildlife photography can be hard. Maybe not quite so much if you follow the herd from one photo opportunity to the next, but if you are trying to wring a result from local landscapes and everyday wildlife, then issues arise that can require persistence and sheer bloody-mindedness to overcome. On paper it should be easy. My subjects are common, they are everywhere, so common in fact that many photographers can’t even be bothered with them. I am not sure that everybody even sees much of our native and not so native fauna as wildlife, but instead judge them as trophies. If I am not explaining myself well, consider this. How many would claim a great grey squirrel image? Not many. How many dream of telling the world that they have just taken an amazing shot of an eagle or an otter?  Perhaps that is what drives those among us that spend their lives travelling to get the latest ‘exotic’

Almost any shot of an eagle is going to be admired as long as it is sharp and clear. I invite you to feel sorry then for the sad man in his gently rotting hide in a very small, very wet, Warwickshire wood. A neglected wood which regularly drops rotten timber through the roof of said hide. A wood plagued at the weekends by off-road motorcyclists roaring up and down the adjacent track. Week in, week out, I have religiously ‘fed’ this insignificant haven. I reset the camera trap and top up the feeders. I have my remote camera box-hide staked out and slowly things have been coming together.

The camera trap has a long and very interesting list of visitors over the last three years, the most ‘interesting’ of which have turned up once in a blue moon and never regularly enough to plan a picture of. Aside from all the blackbirds and robins, rabbits and squirrels, it has recorded muntjac, fox, badger, weasel, polecat, and tawny owl. Any of those would make a welcome addition to the more usual fare, but they really are the exception. And yet there are others that I see and hear regularly when I am in that dismal hide that are common enough, but so very difficult to photograph.

I like to amuse myself wondering how many others have ever succeeded in photographing crows, jays and magpies out in the wild away from long established commercial or urban sites. It really is no mean achievement to be successful with these kind of subjects on land where they are relentlessly persecuted. Foxes and buzzards are similarly difficult in the countryside. Foxes in particular are way easier to photograph in town than out in the woods and fields.

My photographic efforts hitherto have often been pretty frustrating, never more so than when trying to get interesting and close up images of creatures that I see every day, but which will not sanction a close approach. So much common, rural, British wildlife is so alert, so persecuted that it is almost impossible to photograph at it ease, behaving naturally. Worse still, in my experience, A big, wide aperture lens is every bit as frightening to these creatures as a gun is. Long unproductive periods of effort are occasionally interrupted by much shorter interludes of success. That success however is all the more sweet because it is so hard-earned.

My current project, using remote hides is suddenly proving very productive. The hide, a black plastic storage box is much cheaper and easier to place than one that a human being can sit in. It can be left out in all weathers and it will fit into a small gap. It is less noticeable and less vulnerable to the attentions of those half-wits who believe that destroying somebody else’s property is amusing, but if they should come across one, then their enjoyment and my loss are both tempered by the fact that they cannot possibly do more than £15 worth of damage to it. Hell, they are cheap enough to risk on public land if you can tuck them out of sight and off the beaten track.

I have found that after a couple of weeks they are accepted by everything, few questions asked, although carrion crows still tend to be wary. My camera trap however has proved that it is not the box that they are shy of as they will feed happily right in front of it when I am not there. They, crafty sods that they are, know that I have arrived nearby and not left again, so they flirt around the edges of the clearing until I have gone. Carrion crows aside, everything else is happy with its presence and cares little if I move it a few feet to change the view. The fact remains, that box will not shuffle its feet, or get a numb bum. It won’t cough or open a bag of crisps or go home when the rain gets too heavy and so, the wildlife accepts it.

 

 

Today was pay back time for all those long, cold, tedious hours spent trying to maintain the enthusiasm to get another grey squirrel image that nobody else will ever want to see. The jays have been the most persuaded by the apparent harmlessness of this technique. They feed happily in front of it, they perch on it without a second thought. They tease the squirrels and steal their nuts and I have been filling my boots. They are great watch dogs too. Along with the crows, they will swear loud and long at anybody walking nearby. Occasional foxes, farmer’s dogs, sparrowhawks and buzzards all get the same verbal abuse. It was obvious then this lunchtime, that something was amiss.

Alarm calls were going off everywhere, the squirrels dashed into the densest branches and froze, and a huge shape glided silently and effortlessly, through the clearing and up into a low tree right next to the hide. Peering through the tiniest gap, I could make it out, so close that I would have been able to get a shot with my iPad if only I could get the zip open enough to shoot through. I tried, but before I had a good enough sight of it, the bird drifted down to the ground and just sat there peering around, looking for goodness knows what. I closed the camranger app that I use to operate my remote camera and tried to video it, but while I was checking the results of my efforts, it moved.

I couldn’t see it anywhere, so figuring that it had cleared off altogether I turned back round in my seat and glanced towards my camera. The buzzard was sitting on the ground 5 feet in front of it eating the meat that I had put out for the crows. With shaking hands, I found and turned the camranger app back on. It took a painful few seconds to get a wireless connection, then I had to switch on live view, praying almost out loud, that the mirror slapping open wouldn’t spook this magnificent bird. Select focus, adjust, pray and shoot. Not sharp enough. Adjust it again, press capture again and this time hold it down until the bird flew a few short seconds later. Had I got it? The first few were soft, I had the focus out, but re-adjusting the focus and taking more shots paid off in the end and I had a nice picture. More importantly, more even than the less than perfect image that I had already captured, was the knowledge that my remote set up and a handful of cheap and nasty mince is going to get me more opportunities from a spot that I had begun to think had little left to offer that I hadn’t already captured. Now I wonder how many photographers have got close enough to a wild buzzard to catch it with a 130 mm lens. Not many I’ll bet

My nature