Sunday, 18 December 2011

I Spy a Roe Deer…or two

There’s a number of things I believe that contribute to successful wildlife photography – the equipment used, knowing how to use this equipment, knowledge of your subject, stealth, patience, field craft, the time of day, the time of year but perhaps one of the biggest is plain luck and timing.  The last few times I have been out, is to photograph Roe Deer.  I know a good place to go, I know the best time to go, I know all their routes, I have the equipment and have the means to stay stealthy but out of the 23 sightings on these two outings I had barely any decent images to show for it, why? It had a lot to do with luck and timing.

There are three methods I find useful in seeing and photographing Roe Deer:

Method 1 – walk through the woods quickly and as quietly as possible with a fast, light lens of around 200-300mm and there is a good chance you will spook them, where you might then get a ‘grab’ shot as they have the habit of stopping and looking back. Downside, your images probably won’t look good as you’ll just see the back end of them as they’re running off, plus you are disturbing them unnecessary.

Method 2 – sit yourself down hidden with a decent longish lens, somewhere where you know they move through and hope you get lucky.  Downside, you can wait hours without any guarantee that you will have any success.

Method 3 – walk quietly through the woods, stopping every now and then to watch and listen for them.  This is the way I use most of the time, especially at this time of year when it’s cold.


With Method 3 I can, on a windless day where there’s plenty of cover, literally stumble upon a Deer so really need to be concentrating, listening and be on the look out.  What often looks like a lifeless, empty wood is often the opposite.  The images above and below look like typical woodlands at this time of year, yet the one above there is actually a Deer watching.  (See the last image to see where).

The one below, moments before there had been a Roe Deer that ran across from right to left after we stumbled across each other.  As I quietly approached this spot, I was hidden from the Deer's approach by some holly bushes and trees and so we didn’t spot each other until we got to within about 4 metres.  It was very dull so wasn’t even worth trying to take a photograph, besides, I was best equipped for a more static opportunity. Had I arrived moments earlier I would have been further away and maybe had a the chance to photograph it in some open ground without it seeing me.  Moments later I may have missed it completely.


The following photographs are taken from my recent two visits and are the best of what opportunities came to me.  Notice that all have the Deer staring in my direction.  Image 1, 2 and 4 is because I used my shutter to get their attention, as they were moving from a clear spot back into cover.  Their standing still also helped in keeping down motion blur in very low light.  They can’t see me as I use some netting which I drape over myself.  Image one you can see some quite intense looking as she can hear my shutter but can’t smell or see me.  I only take one or two images so as to not create too much disturbance, so after anything from a few seconds to a minute of staring, they carry on.

Image two he saw me but stopped for a moment to look back at me before disappearing into the background.

With any one of these instances, arriving sooner or later could have involved in a better chance of an image or maybe missing the chance completely – it was just down to timing and luck.


Below shows how easy it is to miss these shy and alert Deer and, what appears to be an empty wood, may not be so.  Although on this occasion, it wasn’t a photo opportunity because of the denseness of the trees, had it been coming towards me from a different location, I would have had time to hide and wait in a spot of my choosing.


Just to show some of the failures.  1st – branches in the way causing problems focusing, I usually manual focus because of this.  2nd – cut off by trees and an example of the usual glimpse gained.  3rd – blurred through movement in low light.

SMP_3672 SMP_3675 SMP_3685

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Prestwick Carr Shorties

Prestwick Carr has gained a bit of notoriety for its Short Eared Owls, though I’ve had little joy in having much glimpse of them whenever I have been there.  I’ve seen all the British resident owls, but this is my favourite – that amazing stare it has and piercing eyes – so it was this that made me spend from dawn to dusk on a cold and windy day in the hope to get more than just a glimpse and maybe a decent photo opportunity.

I knew that most of their activity was mid to late afternoon, but I new also knew that this was when they were likely to attract the audience of onlookers and I was hoping to watch and photograph them under more ‘natural’ conditions.  The sun was just rising on an almost completely clear, cold morning and as I approached their main location, I could see in the distance one of them was at least active, but out of nowhere the wind picked up and it started to rain!  By the time I had reached that point there was no sign of them flying – obviously the brief down poor had driven them to cover as I could see two of them sheltering in a pine tree.  They'd probably already been hunting during the dawn so that would probably be it until the next usual appearance.

It wasn’t until just before 1:00pm that saw the next SEO activity as one of them flew low from nowhere and landed on a fence pole.  After a minute or so it regurgitated a pellet and dropped to the ground, disappearing into the long grass.   However, for a while at least I had forgotten the cold and my enthusiasm had been recharged.  I was though, starting to think this was going to be another day of just glimpsing them and it certainly wasn’t going my way in my chances of photographing them.

At early December the sun was low in the sky, shining directly into my eyes and camera lens creating a harsh light and despite the sun being out still didn’t give me a very high shutter speed without upping the cameras ISO. 


With dark clouds gathering in the south west, threatening to block out what little light there was and possibly even bring rain, I was not raising my hopes but kept telling myself to wait just a bit more time.  I was rewarded with my patience a couple of hours later by the sight of, at first one owl flying around, followed by another until there was eventually around 5-6 of them flying past (though at some distance), hunting over the long grass, performing aerial acrobats between each other and landing on the various posts or the ground, though never really getting very close.

Typically with their appearance it became cloudy (only where the sun was, clear sky elsewhere!) and was intermittently raining and at best, I was only getting 1/800th of a second which with a 500mm lens plus extender, I was working borderline with camera shake (no IS on the Sigma).  From the start I was focusing manually for the best results as a combination of poor light and extender meant, even on the 1D series camera, it was struggling with the twisting and turning of these owls.


Not great images but my best yet of this owl and will no doubt have to make another trip to Prestwick Carr.  Even if none of them turned out, it was still worth the wait just to watch these beautiful and idyllic owls flying and hunting in the dull light of winter.