I've been a bit slow on the blog front and partly because of my first book the last thing I've been wanting to do is more writing! I will however try to do more blogs in the new year (new year new me!) Its been a mixed year with two appearances on Countryfile, lots of conservation work and releasing the winner of the UK National Fish Vote on Springwatch live! Below are my top 10 highlights of the year.
I'm not much of a birder (see previous blog post) however I have a soft spot for certain species and waxwings are top of the list. The exotic punk style look to them, weird noise they make and berry gobbling antics make them great birds to watch and photograph and had two goes this year with the huge influx we've had. One lone waxwing turned up in a pub car park in Chesterfield which made a interesting setting while a few weeks later a flock of 5 were in Norfolk which was great to see. Waxwings don't come over to the UK every year so its a real treat to see them especially in large numbers.
9. Tufted Duck Underwater
Birds underwater are a ongoing project of mine with a couple of species on my hit list for 2017. I spent some time with tufted ducks this spring and could watch them all day. They are incredibly buoyant and really struggle to keep down when looking for food. Mallards will attempt to dive also but are a dabbling duck as oppose to a diver.
8. Barbel Spawning
This was a bit of a sore point for the year as I was looking for otters on the Derwent (more on them later) I found a spraint and looked into the shallows to see a huge barbel with male in tow and spawned in the gravel a amazing sight. However I didn't have any of my underwater gear so rushed back the next day and still a few were making barbel babies. I got some following shots and even grayling waiting behind to pick of the eggs which in its self is a interesting behaviour but not the money shot so will be back next year!
7. Norfolk Mammals
I've been wanting to do the seal pups in Norfolk for a few years now and finally has some free time to go and visit them. Their are many beaches in the county that have them giving birth and providing your respectful and approach with care you can get encounters without causing distress to the animals. The female grey seal will suckle its young for about 4 weeks before leaving it to fend for itself though seal milk has the highest amount of fat of any other mammals so they really pile on the weight.
The second mammal I went after was the otter which to be fair I got plenty of images of in Shetland last year but for me they are a river species so really wanted some images of them in a freshwater habitat which can be tricky as they are mostly nocturnal and elusive. Luckily I had good friend Josh Jaggard on hand aka 'The otter whisper' who knew of a reliable spot to find one. Thetford used to be a great spot for a urban otter a few years ago but has since gone now. The first day we looked we didn't see anything just lots of spraints. The second day after about 30 minutes Josh spotted a male cub and we spent most of the day following him along the river bank stalking him. At one point he was so close I could hear him breathing a remarkable experience. It was interesting to note that he was almost exclusively eating bullheads and sticklebacks as seen in the image below.
6. Underwater Puffins
I did get some puffin and other auks underwater in the Farnes a couple of years ago but didn't feel I quite nailed it and to be honest I still haven't when I went to Skomer but as many things I work on it takes time, practice and perseverance. I got some video but the stills were lacking slightly however as a wildlife experience its one that will stick with me for a long time. The puffins were fairly comfortable with us and swimming feet from us like little clock work toys. Wildlife Artist David Miller helped enormously with these guys and has some stunning paintings of them underwater.
5. Ticking off 3 species
Many of you will know I'm quite fond of fish and set myself the challenge in 2013 to film/photograph every species of UK freshwater fish, Now I steamed thorough most of them in the first year but getting down to the harder species now and managed three more species this year with 8 left to get out of the 56. The first one was the sunbleak or motherless minnow a non native species that has a fairly scarce distribution in the UK. The second was the brook trout which is a American species that was quite popular with anglers in the 80's but dropped out of favour but since established a couple of self sustaining populations. Now although the first two are not native they are breeding in the UK so have counted them but the last was a real surprise as I never thought I'd find one which was the Atlantic Sturgeon! A aquatics dealer near me was advertising one to sell and very kindly let me borrow it for a few images, These fish are practically extinct to British rivers but once grew to weights of 880lbs! They do turn up around the coast from time to time.
4. Pike Spawning
This a bit like the seals is something I've meaning to do for years but when the opportunities arise I spring into action. Pike spawning is a behaviour I've seen from the bank many times but never underwater so went diving with them at Stoney Cove. The female pike is much larger and cannibalistic so males have to be wary but eventually you get a few all vying for her attention.
3. Wildlife Trust Films
I've done numerous jobs for the wildlife trusts and county wildlife trusts over the years but had the pleasure of making two films this year. One was for Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust on Chalk Downland Meadows which Red Hill Coronation Meadow is a prime example of. It was great to do something completely different from my normal underwater and river sort of work.
The second film was for Derbyshire Wildlife Trust on the River Derwent catchment filming its problems, successes and species. Water voles, dippers, fish and kingfisher feature and will be out some time in 2017 online.
2. Local Otter
A personal highlight was finding otters on my home county of Nottinghamshire and also in Derbyshire while filming for the above film. Otters are a top predator not only eating fish but small mammals, frogs and birds. Males have huge territories. Its a complicated issue with anglers and otters one I'm not going to go fully into today but do feel free to read Kevin Parr's blog which details it in a balanced way.
1. Spawning Grayling
You may see a theme of fish spawning but its not a fetish I promise! Grayling are my favourite fish and I've been wanting to capture them spawning for four years! I started by mapping potential sites to see them. The second year was then trying to film them at it with no joy and the third year the same. I then had some help from a riverkeeper who put me right on them. Its the first time in a long time I got incredibly excited (again don't take this out of context!) to film something that to my knowledge no one else had done.
So what does the future hold for 2017? Well I have at least one new book in the works, I'm still going after the remaining fish species left to film and working on a wildlife photography TV show.
Lets hope 2017 is better then the pile of shit that was 2016!