Sunday, 6 November 2011

Red Squirrels Revisited

After my previous and unexpected encounter with Red Squirrels earlier this week, I thought I would go out again this time with the intention of trying photographing them properly using more ideal equipment.  I new it was going to be a long shot – the chances of them being there again in such numbers (they’re normally rare around here) was slim, but I figured they were out in force because of the abundant food supply of Autumn Beech Nuts and so were stocking up for Winter so they might still be around.


Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t so good on arrival, it had been raining early morning and was still overcast and dull, so as I positioned myself in the same spot as before, set my camera at maximum ISO (6400) though, in the dark shelter of the woods, at best I was getting 1/200th of a second shutter speed at this stage – not ideal.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to see much, but within twenty minutes I spotted my first Red, down on the floor digging through the leave litter but too far away to bother trying to photograph.

SMP_3171One of the things I like about sitting in a quiet wood with nobody else about, particularly early morning, is just to listen to the various sounds around. Because of the recent rain, the wood canopy was still soaking and water was falling as if it was still raining, making a background noise as it hit the falling leaves on the ground.  This made it difficult to hear other noises as normal, though I could still hear various sounds – Blue and Great Tits, Magpies giving off warning calls, rustling in the tree tops and chattering from the Red Squirrels and over cautious Pidgins every now and then taking flight making a clatter with their wings.  Occasionally I would hear a more distinct ‘rustle’ which could only be made by a much larger animal.

I was positioned in a dipping slope and had my lens set up pointing towards where I expected to see the squirrels, but to my left a particular rustling got closer and closer when out of the corner of my eye about six metres away I could see a Roe Deer looking at me.  These are very curious animals, and with my back against a tree and netting over my lens, it probably wasn’t completely sure about me and I avoided looking directly towards it, hoping it would just ignore me, but a loud bark made it obvious that he was alerted to my presence and he quickly moved away for a short distance before again stopping to look back at me.  I was able to take a couple of pictures, though at 1/40th of a second, hand held with a 500mm lens they weren't very good.  He then vanished into the undergrowth, barking loudly as he went.

With only glimpses of the Reds and the light not improving, I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to be my day so just decided to have a wonder through the woods.  It’s interesting how, in a mixed type woodland, one part can be so completely different from another.  As I walked along I went from one part which was brightly coloured with the falling leaves, full of the sounds of song birds, to a part of the woods which became noticeably colder and completely without a sound – not even the water drops hitting the ground, it was a bit creepy though the reason for this, I’m sure was the lack of tree foliage which gave less cover for birds and being more open so more exposed and colder.

Eventually, as I approached a patch of woods similar to the one where I previously sat, I noticed a movement on the ground in the distance – I was in luck – another Red Squirrel.  I sat down from a distance and made myself confortable hoping it would eventually move closer.  Watching, it followed a typical pattern of finding food sometimes eating it on the ground but usually going up into a mid height branch it eat it and groom.


Although there were others around that I could see and hear, this was the only one on the ground or getting anywhere near to photograph.  It’s ironic that when I had my 300mm lens they were much closer.  Now that I had my 500mm they were much further away and I was in fact, getting a less closer shot than on the previous occasion despite having an actual magnification of double than before!  Being marginally brighter, it was still below what was needed to prevent camera shake and movement blur.  To add to this, whilst in the trees, the squirrel was moving between areas of darkness to bright back lit patches making exposure very difficult.  Most of my images were blurred, over or under exposed and not one was I completely happy with but they do help to illustrate the events the day.


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Autumnal Woods

With some time off, I thought I would get out and take some photographs of this years Autumn colours before the leaves have completely dropped.  With this in mind I decided to be more leisurely kitted out with a full frame camera, wide angle zoom, macro lens a 300mm lens good for telephoto landscape shots and a tripod.  The forecast was for a rare clear and sunny day which would help increase the colours.

I tend to have an image in my head whenever I go out to take pictures, in this case it was the first rays of dawns sunshine creating shafts of glowing light and illuminating the canopy of leaves.  Unfortunately when I arrived at the woods, it had only just stopped raining and there was no promised sunshine, just greyness.  By the time the sun did come out, it was it was late morning when it was more harsher and it was patchy.  I found myself sitting at a particular place, waiting for the sun to come to come out only for it to disappear as quickly as it came so it didn’t quite get the images I had visualised but when the sun did appear, it did make the woods look amazing.

I think for most people who take landscapes they do it to try and capture a moment in time and and the beauty of what they see.  When I got home and looked at the images I had taken, I was very disappointed – they were nothing like what I had seen.  I supposed it’s because it’s not just about the visual colours but the sounds and feelings of the moment, being out in nature, quiet and peaceful with just the calls of song birds, a Tawny Owl in the distance and a Roe Deer barking.


At one point, early afternoon I had been in the same spot for about an hour and a half quietly trying some macro and ‘artistic’ shots, when I realised I wasn’t alone. Up in the canopy I heard some rustling and ‘chipping’ sounds, looked up to see a couple of Red Squirrels chasing each other.  On the ground further up a couple were feeding, digging in the layers of falling leaves.  It had been over a year since last seeing reds here and I had start to believe the greys had taken over.

It was great just to sit and watch them, but I was kicking myself for not having the right photographic equipment at hand.  The best I had was the full frame 5D, the 300mm and converter attached – not ideal.  Amongst the leave litter the lighting and surroundings were ideal.  Patches of golden light, the red coat of the squirrels along with the red, yellow and orange fallen leaves and logs for them to pose on.  If only I had my normal camera I use for wildlife and 500mm lens!  I could return another day but no sunshine was forecast for the foreseeable future (this part of the woods is dark)  and besides, these are rare now, the chances of seeing as many as there was around at this time – about 5 or 6 – probably wouldn’t happen again for another 50 visits, if at all.


Red Squirrels are very shy animals and I don’t know if they saw me, they were certainly occasionally looking in my direction but maybe I was far enough away that they weren’t bothered by me so I was able to watch them for around an hour though the warning calls in a different direction from my position, by Magpies suddenly made them disappear.  It amazes me just how well they can do that.  You can surprise one, watch it go up a tree right next to you and you simply won’t see it again.

On this occasion, I was just about to leave when all returned again.  I watched them for a further half hour when, above my head on the tree I was hiding behind, I heard the typical scorning chatter of a Red Squirrel. Looking up there was one looking right down at me.  If they didn’t know I was there before they did now!  They were gone again, only this one stayed long enough for me to take some pictures of it while it continued to ‘tell me off’ before it too disappeared.  It surprises me that Red Squirrels are ‘bullied’ by their grey cousins as whenever a wild Grey Squirrel is surprised by a person, it will shot up into the trees and be gone.  The plucky red will stop first, give you a load of Red Squirrel abuse, then go up into the trees making more noise at it goes.  For me it gives them a bit more character than the greys and, along with their visual charms, makes them one of my favourite British mammals.


Below, a few images taken the day before of some Pheasants