Richmond Park 2012

Richmond Pond in the Mist

Richmond Pond in the Mist

After my success last year I couldn’t wait for the annual deer rut to come round again. Just as with last year I thought I’d go up a week or two early to try my luck, especially with a bright, clear morning forecast. With the sun set to rise at 6.45 I set the alarm for 5 o’clock and headed out. I didn’t have to go far for my first wildlife experience of the day. As I walked to the car something shuffled behind the car on the opposite side of the road. I assumed it must be a fox but as it emerged the other side it was in fact a badger! Quite possibly the first I’d seen that wasn’t lying dead on the side of a road. I had no idea there were badgers in my culdesac, now I’m dying to know where the set is. Possibly in number 22’s front drive, who knows.

When I arrived it seemed that the hoped for mist wouldn’t materialise, but as I headed for the pond there was a nice layer of mist hanging over that was beginning to spread.

London Skyline from Richmond Park

London Skyline from Richmond Park. Looked absolutely stunning, like something out of Mega City Four, and I wasn’t about to pass it by. I just can’t get enough of the Shard, it’s an awesome building. This is a stitch of 3 photographs

As the sun rose the pond looked absolutely beautiful so I swapped lenses and got a few as the sun broke through the mist. I was in a real dilemna, there were many opportunities at the pond, but the great light wouldn’t last for long and I was here to photograph the deer.

Swan, Richmond Pond

Swan, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park.

Canada Geese, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park

Canada Geese, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park

So after grabbing a couple of shots of Swans and Geese I headed in the direction of the bellowing. As things weren’t in full swing there wasn’t too much to go after, but as a stag emerged from the mist behind the pond myself and 2 or 3 other photographers all descended on it, which sent it packing in the direction of away. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Heron, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park

Heron, Richmond Pond, Richmond Park. A perfect Heron shot has always eluded me so when I saw one posing nicely on the pond I headed back. I’ve always wanted to get one in flight. It was sod’s law that as soon as I turned my back to photograph a stag behind me the heron took flight. One day.

Mute Swans, Richmond Park

Mute Swans flying in formation, Richmond Park

The shot I’d had in my mind of a Stag emerging from the mist, bathed in the rich, golden first light had by this time, along with the mist, evaporated. Undeterred I solderied on hoping to catch something that might compensate. I’d failed last year to get a single decent shot of a fallow deer so it was quite nice to get the shot below.

Fallow Deer, Richmond Park

Fallow Deer, Richmond Park

Deer with Jackdaw pecking its ears, Richmond Park

The jackdaw was having a really good go at this young deer’s head and ears, but the deer, far from being annoyed, looked to be in heaven. Occasionally the jackdaw would go too far and find itself shaken off, but he was very persistent. A nice bit of behaviour to witness and photograph.

Deer and Jackdaw, Richmond Park

Ouch!

Stag, Richmond Park

Puffing Stag, Richmond Park

By now the best of the light was gone and I headed home. I actually felt a little disappointed on the way home, but reviewing the shots I actually think the morning was quite a success.

There was, of course, still that niggle that I hadn’t got what I was after, so I returned the following weekend. The forecast for the Sunday was for a clear start clouding over soon after, so there was a small window of opportunity, and despite a tiring Saturday wandering around Peppa Pig World (not on my own I might point out) I knew I had to give it a go.

The sunrise was beautiful, and although there was absolutely no mist to speak of there was at least going to be some sun. I met  a young photographer by the name of Yusuf Akhtar, and together we headed down the hill and turned right toward the clearing to the right of the pond. A large stag with an impressive bellow was in full view. As we tried to get in front of it it continued onward and it felt for a while as if it was going to be fruitless. Eventually however, he came to rest amongst a small group of younger Stags. It must have been the local Stag hangout. I was then able to get the Stag in front of me with the fast rising Sun behind, and he duly obliged with a few more impressive bellows.

Stag Breath, Richmond Park, Surrey

Stag Breath, Richmond Park, Surrey

More Stag Breath, Richmond Park

More Stag Breath, Richmond Park

Bingo! It was quite an adrenaline rush knowing I had the image in my head playing out before me, so I was very relieved to find I’d got it, and got it sharp. The first of the two images in particular has been very successful. Both made Flickr Explore, and then the first was featured in the Flickr Blog, which saw it’s hits go through the roof. It’s currently had over 4,000 views, by far my most successful image to date.

North Wales

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

I must confess that when I suggested North Wales as a possible holiday destination it wasn’t entirely with the kids’ sole interests at heart. Clare, long since used to my not so hidden agenda, and with a certain sense of resignation, duly obliged and booked a week in a log cabin in Bronaber, on the southern tip of Snowdonia National Park. I’d been to this part of the world before (see here), but I was keen this time to see some of the fantastic wildlife on offer too. Here are some of the photographic highlights. I could bore you with tales of our trips to the beach but I’m not sure you want to hear it.

Glaslyn Osprey Project

Inspired by Iolo Williams Wild Wales series I was keen to see the Ospreys, so first on the agenda was a trip to the Glaslyn Osprey Project. Although we did get to see them through a very powerful scope, there wasn’t really the opportunity to photograph them up close. Talking to one of the volunteers there, they may well lose their funding next year, so I’d urge anyone to pay them a visit and register your support.

Trawsfynydd Lake

Perhaps the most striking feature of this lake is the whacking great nuclear power station positioned down one end. Thankfully it’s a very big lake and so from the south end you can’t see it at all. I ventured out the first evening when the conditions looked promising, and as it was a mile from our cabin it didn’t take long to get there. It was still a bit of a panic getting set up in time though but I managed to get it in the bag just before the sun disappeared behind the hill.

Trawsfynydd Lake

Trawsfynydd Lake, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Mist at Bronaber, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Mist at Bronaber, Snowdonia National Park, Wales. Returning from Trawsfynydd Lake I was confronted by this. It was going to be a long night.

I then returned a couple of nights later and pointed the camera in the opposite direction. The tree and stone wall were too good to ignore and the great light didn’t hurt either. I then headed out into the mountains and found the view below in time for sunset.

Trawsfynydd Lake, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Trawsfynydd Lake, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Whinchat, Trawsfynydd Lake, Wales

Whinchat, Trawsfynydd Lake, Wales. I’d attempted, without success to photograph the numerous Swallows that reside by the lake. Then I spotted this Whinchat sitting motionless in the field. She very obligingly waited long enough until I was sure I had a sharp one to take home.

Rolling Hills, Snowdonia National Park

Rolling Hills, Snowdonia National Park

Beaumaris

No holiday is complete for me without a boat trip, and so with the promise of puffins and seals we headed to Beaumaris in Anglesey to hop aboard the Puffin Island cruise. Being August however, all the puffins had gone but there were at least a few seals on show, not to mention quite a few cormorant, and I even spotted a couple of sandwich tern. Beaumaris itself is very pretty and well worth a visit, definitely worth the journey.

Swallow, Beaumaris, Anglesey, Wales

There’s an awful lot of Swallows in Wales. Photographing them in flight is extremely difficult. Photographing them whilst perched on a telegraph line, not so difficult.

The Red Kites of Ceredigion

Nine miles east of Aberystwyth on the A44, in the bottom of a beautiful valley, sits the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre. Every day, at 3pm, they feed the Red Kites. I’d long been fascinated by these beautiful birds, and although I’d dragged the family off the beach and made them sit in a hot, sweaty car for almost 2 panic stricken hours behind a tractor that wouldn’t go over 30 on a road that allowed for no overtaking, I only felt a slight twinge of guilt. We just made it just in time and I rushed down the hill to a beautiful lake where on the opposite bank they were laying out the food. Around 100 or so kites were circling up above, and then one by one began swooping down to pick up the meat. It was absolutely awesome, a real spectacle, and one I won’t forget for a while. It took a while to get in the groove, it was sod’s law that despite clear skies all day, the moment I got the camera out the clouds came in. I had to resort to ISO 800 to freeze the action, not ideal, but you can at least sort out the noise later, but with blurred, noise free shots, you’re kind of left with nothing.

Leucistic Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Leucistic Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Little Grebes, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Ceredigion Forest, Wales

Swooping Red Kites in the background. Little Grebe feeding chick with a newt in the foreground. I admit I was quite torn.

Leucistic Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales

Leucistic Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales. Not to be confused with an albino bird. I heard someone say there’s only eight of these in the world. I have no idea whether there’s any truth in that but he certainly was rather special. Or she.

I have to say I can’t speak highly enough of this visitor centre. Aside from a very reasonable £1.50 for parking it’s free to get in, it’s an absolutely stunning setting and there’s even an adventure playground for the kids while you disappear off. On top of that they have a large feeder up by the cafe where you’ll see a number of species including chaffinch, greenfinch, siskin, coal tits, nuthatch and even redpoll.

Greenfinch, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales

Greenfinch, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales. Having struggled to photograph the Greenfinch that occasionally visits our back garden I wasn’t going to look this particular gift horse in the mouth.

Chaffinch, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales

Chaffinch, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, Wales. For a long time I didn’t have a decent Chaffinch shot in the bag, now they seem to pop up everywhere I look.

A great end to a great week, it certainly won’t be too long before I return here again.

London Wild Bird Watch 2012

Heron

Heron with a Newt, London Wetlands Centre, Barnes

I went up to the London Wild Bird Watch event at the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes today along with a few birder friends, Ryan and Euan, along with Euan’s neighbours John and Shelagh. In the car on the way up they tried to convince me that they were birders, not twitchers. Whatever. Mind you, I’m usually met with the same response. It was a beautiful morning, so upon arrival I obeyed my first rule, to strike while the iron is hot, and got straight out with the camera, conscious of the fact that the weather was forecast to close in come the afternoon. I headed along the South Route, making my way directly to the Wader Scrape Hide at the far end.  The Scrape is quite sheltered, not least by the Sand Martin bank to the left, giving a nice flat, reflective water surface. Definitely don’t want choppy conditions if I can help it. I was rewarded with a Lapwing and a Redshank feeding in the shallows.

Lapwing

Lapwing at the Wader Scrape, London Wetland Centre

I think Lapwings are beautiful and unique looking birds, and I’ve been wanting to capture one for a while so this was one off the list. The Redshank was a nice bonus.

Redshank, Wader Scrape,  LWC

Redshank, Wader Scrape, London Wetland Centre

Redshank and Lapwing, Wader Scrape, LWC

At one point the pair of them crossed paths. Nice.

Then as luck would have it I noticed the Little Grebe very close to the hide. Another off my wanted list.

Little Grebe, Wader Scrape, LWC

Little Grebe, Wader Scrape, London Wetland Centre

Returning back to the Cafe a group of people were huddled round some old wood. Turns out there were a few Common Lizards sunning themselves. Time to obey the second rule, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. So despite the fact we were all supposed to be meeting up for lunch I got the tripod out and began setting up…

Common Lizard, LWC

If this were a snake then the 'S' would be really relevant and would show what a great conceptualist I was. But its a Lizard. Unfortunately.

As if the Lizards weren’t enough (I know, I was beside myself) I then spotted some beautiful fritillaries. What’s more there were bees collecting pollen from them. Rule number two kicked in again.

Fritillary with a Bee collecting pollen

Fritillary with a Bee collecting pollen

Fritillaries, LWC

Fritillaries under more subtle light, London Wetland Centre

All these distractions meant that by the time I’d got back to the Cafe my ‘friends’ had finished their lunch and got up. At the time I blamed it on the rain that had begun to fall, but in retrospect I think it was resentment that I know all twitchers feel toward photographers. They would never admit it of course, but they seemed mighty keen to lose me. Ah well, people say I’m paranoid… I know they do.

Undeterred, we all headed off together to the main marquee to hear a very interesting talk from Simon King. Simon spoke passionately about maintaining the enthusiasm for nature in the coming generations, before moving on to some of his favourite subjects, foxes and otters. I think the highlight for me though were the live webcams watching over the Peregrine Falcons nesting in Charing Cross, a stone’s throw from the Wetland Centre. He then topped it off by bringing on a captive Peregrine to the stage, a stunning bird. Throughout the talk the rain thundered down on the marquee roof to such an extent it made it difficult to hear at times! We’d done well to get out in the morning as conditions had definitely taken a turn for the worse.

After the talk we had a good look round the stalls, of particular interest to me was Oliver Smart’s stand, some stunning photography, definitely worth checking out if you get the chance. The sharpness and detail blew me away. I avoided the Canon stand as I knew any sudden impulse buys wouldn’t go down well with the missus. Or the bank manager.

We then headed out via the West Route and another chance to photograph Little Grebe presented itself.

Little Grebe, LWC

This little fella gave me the complete run around. Not long after this shot he dived down and quite simply never came up again. I looked everywhere but couldn't find him. He's probably still down there now.

Returning from the Wildside Hide a Heron landed very near. This could at last be my chance to get a decent Heron shot.

Heron, LWC

Getting closer to a good Heron shot, but the foreground reeds are going to annoy me every time I see this shot. Same with the shot at the top of the page, without the foreground reeds it would be damn fine shot.

After a final trip along the South route we headed home, just about beating the rain once more. A very enjoyable day, and glad to at last have got decent shots of Little Grebe, Heron and Lapwing. Euan seemed happy with his ‘list’, 48 species apparently. It’s a different world.

Surrey Life Cover

Surrey Life Cover, November Edition

Surrey Life Cover, November Edition

I’m very proud to say that my photo of two Red Deer Stags Rutting has made in onto the cover of the November Edition of Surrey Life magazine. It’s the realisation of one of my goals so I’m extremely chuffed. It’s the first time they’ve featured a ‘reader’s photo’ on the cover, so it’s nice to be a part of a little bit of history! The image appears again inside as part of Surrey Life’s ‘Beautiful Surrey’ feature, containing photos sent in from their readers.

It also featured in the Surrey Advertiser ‘Picture Surrey’ supplement, both on the cover and repeated again inside, so this particular image has done very well for me!

Forest Stewardship Council Competition Winner!

Bluebells, Micheldever Woods, Hampshire

Bluebells, Micheldever Woods, Hampshire

I’m very pleased and proud to say I’ve won the Forest Stewardship Council UK Summer Photo Competition! My photo of the Bluebells at Micheldever Woods one fine misty morning may have fallen at the first hurdle at the Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards but its finally come up trumps!

You can find out more information about the FSC UK and the other competition winners here.

The Deer Rut, Richmond Park, Surrey

or…how I fell fallow of the law(!)

Stags in the Mist

Stags in the Mist

Much as I enjoy bird photography I felt I was in danger of being pigeon-holed (sorry), so thought I would get myself along to Richmond Park to photograph some deer for a change. Although the rut isn’t supposed to peak until mid October I thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in and with the promise of good weather I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss. I set the alarm for 5 o’clock and headed up the M3. The mist rising from every field I passed was incredible. I got to the gates at 6.30, and as they weren’t letting cars in until 7 o’clock I decided to have a little wander round and capture the very first sunlight of the day, as the sky turned pink.

Branch in the Mist

Old Branch in the Mist

Then I headed back to the car as soon as the gates were open and started the search for deer. It didn’t take long, within a minute or two I’d found two Red Deer rutting.

Two Stag Rutting

Two Red Deer Stags Square Up

The Winner!

The Winner! I think that might be the sheepish loser retreating over to the left.

In my haste though, I’d parked the car at the side of the road and looked round to see the Met Police whacking a fine on my car. With the sun just peaking out from behind the trees I had to wrench myself away to go park the car somewhere sensible. Like a car park. I hot footed it back to the spot, feeling like I just couldn’t get there quick enough. It was like those dreams you have when you’re running on the spot and can barely move. There was about half hour of beautiful golden light. Think I successfully managed to miss most of it. I did however get this chap as he crossed my path, so every cloud and all that.

A Stag in the orange light of morning

A Stag in the orange light of morning

More rutting fun

More rutting fun. The fella in the background was an added bonus.

As I crested the brow of the hill the light was pouring through the trees creating a wonderful atmosphere, and that’s when I got the shot at the top of the page. As the sun rose higher in the sky the mist soon burnt off, and as the clouds rolled in there was a far more subdued light. I went in search of other opportunities. A number of stags were all trying to out do each other with their calls. I found the guy below giving a good account of himself in the bracken.

Stag in the Bracken

Stag in the Bracken

The loudest however, by some margin, was the fellow below. A very deep, booming voice, a bit like Brian Blessed.

The King of the, er, Park

The King of the, er, Park

After this he then went in search of some adornment for his antlers. I’m sure that would’ve impressed the ladies no end.

With a full card and flat light I resolved to return again at the first sight of a clear day. Thankfully the following week saw the hottest October on record, and so I again made the journey up the M3. The weather was perfect, with a thick mist to begin with, so thick in fact that it was difficult to find where the bellowing was coming from, and then as the sun came up there were some beautiful conditions with light filtering through the trees. The mist eventually burnt off and we were treated to some beautiful early morning light. When I say ‘we’ I mean myself and the other 200 or so photographers in the park! There were a crazy number there, and at times keeping them out of shot was quite a challenge.

Stag Head shot

This guy passed right in front of me, a little too close for comfort.

The rut really was in full swing, quite a contrast with the week before when things were just warming up. The air was thick with the sound of stags bellowing all around you. The majority of the action was taking part in a clearing, with photographers lining the edge, all vying for position.

Warm Light

The nice warm light I'd been hoping for. Nice pose too.

I got a few in the bag and then moved on to try and find opportunities elsewhere. As I made my way back to the car, I had the Stag below blocking my path. He seemed to have quite a nark on, and so I stopped in my tracks and waited. And then set the camera up. Hell, if he was going to charge I was at least going to get a decent shot. Eventually he seemed to calm down, as did my heart rate, and I returned to the car happy. And without a parking ticket this time, which was nice!

Nark On

He's got a right nark on!