Wildlife Highlights of 2017
Firstly I have to apologise for not keeping up with the blogs the mind is willing but don’t seem to get round to it! 2017 has been a mixed year for me traveling all over the UK from Cornwall to Shetland as well as plenty of local stuff. Its been a busy year with me moving house, getting a puppy and health issues but I’m plodding along and managed to get out a few times. I didn’t do as many shoots as I’d of liked and for 2018 I’m going to force myself to go out and take more images. I have a few bits in the pipeline including more content on my youtube channel, new books and getting my TV pilot out to the masses!
10. One Show Robins
I started 2017 with a nice surprise my first film for The One Show. I’d been trying to get involved with them for ages but not found the right story to pitch. Funnily enough they tweeted out a plea for friendly robins which Attenborough Nature Reserve had plenty. The idea of the piece was to show that robins have a darker side and anyone who’s watched robins on there garden feeders will be well aware of there true colours. The presenter for this was Deborah Meadan from Dragons Den. I’ve worked with lots of wildlife presenters over the years but Deborah was without a doubt the most down to earth and friendliest of the bunch. Even when we weren’t filming she’d take the time to chat to me and seemed interested in what I had to say.
Theres always a pressure when you bring a film crew to a location you know as if the animal doesn’t perform in can be quite damaging to your career! Luckily the robins didn’t let me down and you watch the piece here.
Often I see locations and places that I’d love to go but don’t have a justification to do so. Being a working photographer I have to way up the places I visit and the return I can get from it. I’d heard about Scottish nature photography hides for a few years now from people who had been out with me on my own workshops. People from all over the UK and even abroad visit Alans hides. I was driving to Shetland (more on that later) and was passing through Dumfries which was about halfway up so worked out perfectly to try one of the hides. I briefly visited the red kite feeding station close to Alans hides but missed the 2pm feeding. There was a wide choice of species available but ultermitlty I went for the sparrowhawk. It’s a species that I had close to my house but would take hours and hours of work to get an image, which wouldn’t be worth the time invested for me. As well as the hawk lots of garden birds and red squirrels visited the hide so I figured I’d get images of them if nothing else.
I was joined by a German photographer (can’t remember his name) but was really friendly. To be fair he had more of a hard time working out my Nottingham accent then I did his! The red squirrels came fairly promptly which was always a pleasure to see and greater spotted woodpeckers again a common species but I had few images of them before this trip. Alan has a dead mouse attached to a log to entice the sparrowhawk in but I had to go at 12pm without a siting. I was told that the hawk came in the evening, which is always the case! If I pass that neck of the woods again I’ll certainly have another crack at mad max the sparrowhawk.
8. Bee eaters
I keep saying I’m not a twitcher but I think in my old age (26) Its slowly creeping in. I haven’t quite gto to the point of keeping a list or traveling hundreds of miles for a little brown jobby but if something sexy turns up on my doorstep I’ve got to poke my head in. When I heard that 7 bee eaters had turned up 10 minutes from my house I thought it was a windup! I left it for a while but after they had been at East Leake for over a month I thought it would be safe to go and they would actually be there. The full circus had turned up and why not these are remarkable birds and to have them breed on site, a first for Nottinghamshire and only attempted to breed 5 times in the last decade in Britain.
They were miles away when I visited but could still make out the shape and colours of these birds which did but a smile on my face with a little slice of the tropical in the East Midlands.
7. Skye Eagles
The herbrides had long been a area I’d wanted to visit so when I was invited by steven hopper who runs sea eagle trips at talisker, skye I couldn’t refuse. I was joined by my partner in crime Josh Jaggard as well as some old friends from university so a sort of unofficial reunion. Most of them were landscape photographers who had no shortage of places to see. For me it was the eagles that were top of my list though I did fit in some salmon shots. I first did the golden eagles which steve had done a amazing hide for fitted out with roadkill. I jumped into the hide first and josh scrambled in after me before saying ‘oh theres a golden eagle above my head’ I didn’t see it but he said it was close. This gave me a great boost however for the next 8 hours apart from the odd hooded crow we saw bugger all and the cold slowly sapped my enthusiasm.
The sea eagles however were another story. We got onto steves boat at Talisker bay right next to the distillery (well worth a visit if your into scotch, yum!) we headed to the cliffs and steve pointed out a eagle sitting on the rocks straight away. Looking closer we saw three of these huge birds of prey. By injecting the dead mackerel with a bit of air they floated allowing time for the eagles to swwop down and grab it. Interestingly they would sometimes let the gulls grab the fish then mob them to steal the fish. It was immense to see them so close to feeding and see size of the birds. One of my friends James wasn’t having quite as much fun as sea sickness crept in and changed into the colour of a avocado.
This was one of those spur of the moment trips. I was heading down to Dorset to see Sam Stewart who had just returned from filming in Alaska as well as many university friends I’d not seen in years. I down early and thought I’d try one of the many stunning chalk streams in the area. It was also ideal to try out my new remote underwater camera system. The water was gin clear and full of grayling and brown trout. I only spent a couple of hours but got some images I was really pleased with so will continue to use the remote set up in the new year and get down onto some chalk streams!
I’ve known about the ring necked parakeets in London for some time but never really had to chance to go see them. I went with London based photographer Darren Burgess who reliably told me they will come down to your hand in Hyde park to feed which intrigued me. We heard them straight away but wasn’t until we walked around the lake we saw a crowd gathered near a tree. Thee must have been two dozen of the green birds all hanging around for tourists to feed them.
They were a lot more ballsy then I thought they’d be squawking at rivals and beating up the pigeons that would try and get a meal. Theres a few stories about how they got to the UK with Jimi Hendrix releasing them in the 60’s be my favourite. They aren’t just found in London now though I’ve seen them in my local Wollaton Park and as far north as Glasgow.
4. Ticking another off!
I’m still filming my freshwater fish and did manage to tick 4 species off my list with 3 to go! The one that stands out was the Golden Grey Mullet as they are so thinly spread across Britain I thought I was going to have a nightmare finding one but actually did it by accident. I went down to Cornwall in March to speak at Falmouth University and stopped off at Fowey Aquarium. Its well worth a visit if you’re down that way and great opportunity to see the many Cornish fish species including a bloody huge conger eel!
When looking into the tank I saw a oddly shaped mullet and to my delight it was a golden grey! I try to film fish in the wild where possible but living so far inland mullet aren’t easy for me to come across so had a bit of a lucky break with this interesting species. It’s the smallest mullet species out of the 3 we have and has golden blotches on its cheeks giving it, its name.
I consider myself quite lucky that I get paid to do jobs I absolutely love. One such job this year was filming twaite shad for the ‘unlocking the severn’ project. Working with seadog productions my role was to get some footage of shad underwater running up the Severn. The water was a bit murky as you’d expect on the severn but did get some nice clips of these incredibly rare fish.
I was very lucky to see them spawning also which very few people have seen. The shad gather at dusk in the shallows in shoals and chase each other it circles splashing around and releasing eggs. It was a amazing behaviour to watch.
2. Blue Sharks
Its been a shady past for me and the blue shark, I never actually went after them when I lived in Cornwall and have been down since multiple times. I went out on the Borlewen fishing boat from Fowey to find the sharks. I explained to the skipper Dan that I didn’t want to fish for the sharks but jump in the water with them and after looking a bit puzzled was all for it!
We mashed up some rotten fish and put out a scent trail for the blues to follow. While waiting I was amazed at the birds we saw from diving gannets, petrols and skuas I was a bit miffed I didn’t take a long lens. My fellow fish botherer david miller was along for the ride also who was quite happy getting shots of mackerel while we waited for the blues. After about 3 hours I was starting to think the sharks weren’t going to turn up and then this electric blue shark turned up and I shouted ‘shark!’ it was huge! We scrambled to get into the water and waited. It’s a surreal experience being in deep water waiting for a large predator to turn up and having the jaws theme running in my head. They were a bit nervous of us and didn’t get close up views but could make them out from the distance so was a epic experience.
I shot a TV pilot in Shetland this summer on wildlife photography spending three fantastic weeks up there. I’d been before in 2015 and had a few species I wanted to get. From a birding point of view I saw merlins, red throated diver, red necked phalarope and plenty of puffins! For me though there was only one species I wanted to see which was the orca. Josh jaggard was filming the pilot for me and was working for Shetland Nature so seeing the posts of killer whales metres from the shore was just intoxicating.
We had a update on facebook and if you want to find them then joining the Shetland orca siting’s page is a must! We rushed from Unst onto a ferry to Yell to catch them as they were heading North. We got into position and waiting before a fin broke the surface out in the distance. They were a long way of but it was a pod of killer whales in the British isles. It was great but I wanted more and they delivered!
My second go was heading further south to Lerwick which is about 3 hours from Unst so by the time you get a siting there they are already well ahead of you. We pulled up on the side of the road and were dozens of people waiting for them it was like the whole island had come to see them. Around the headed the bull popped up first and headed towards us. I got onto the shore and must have been 10 metres away from this immense creature it was fucking incredible! Following him were a mother and calf and couple others hunting seals along the rocks. It was something I never really expected to ever see orcas let alone in the UK and will stay with me for the rest of my life.