If you’ve recently been contacted by someone who you think is me or representing me or my business, regarding the vacancy for a photographic assistant position, please ignore. This is 100% a scam. Please do not enter into any communication and most certainly to not part with any monies. My web host has been notified and I can only apologise for any inconvenience caused.
I think myself very lucky to have travelled extensively in Africa and have based myself in some amazing locations.
At the end of last year I was fortunate enough to stay (although only briefly for three nights) at the multi-award winning Motswari Private Game Reserve, which is located in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, itself part of the Greater Kruger National Park Conservancy and some six hours drive from Johannesburg. However, on this trip, to maximize my time, I opted for the internal flight from Johannesburg to Nelspruit (Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport).
Thanks to the management of David and Thea, I believe that Motswari gets the balance just right between having the essentials for a comfortable stay; friendly, helpful and experienced staff and great game viewing. It’s extremely relaxed and non-pretentious. It’s luxurious enough for those who seek the finer things and down-to-earth enough for those who love to get up and get out before sunrise and return after sunset.
If you’re serious about your wildlife photography and you’re lucky enough to meet up with resident guides Keith Connelly or Chad Cocking, then you’re in good hands. Not only are they knowledgeable guides and excellent company, they’re also accomplished photographers with a wealth of experience that they’re willing to share, to help you make the most of the days you have.
The staff at this family run lodge are committed to service excellence in all aspects of day-to-day running of their business. From African wildlife conservation and environmental management, to the high level of quality of their cuisine. Responsible Tourism is a key principle in their operating philosophy and all their employees are very much treated as members of the family.
So, the lodge is all I could have asked for, but what of the game viewing? Well, I know they have the best of everything, as I’ve seen the evidence in Chad and Keith’s portfolios, but I did have a couple of things going against me, which to be honest I had already accepted upfront. These were a) I was only there for a very short time b) I wasn’t on a dedicated photographers trip or self-drive, so had to ensure I was always as sympathetic to the needs of my fellow travellers as they were to mine. So, I was hoping that luck would be on my side.
The sun had gone by the time we spotted this female Leopard. Really pushing the camera’s limits. Might be time for an upgrade!!!
A face only a mother could love!! Hyena’s do tend to get a raw deal and are often overlooked by those seeking the Big Five and the more exotic, but I love them and could watch the family interactions all day.
I really enjoyed my time and the experience at Motswari and will definitely be back.
Getting close to non-habituated wildlife in natural surroundings requires an intimate knowledge of the subject, extensive field craft skills and lots and lots of patience, often in changeable weather.
Of course this is all part of the challenge of being a wildlife photographer and when all the elements come together, it’s extremely rewarding.
However, in recent years, a number of photographers have committed themselves to providing the rest of us with additional opportunities to get up-close-and-personal with wildlife by providing purpose built professional hides for hire in a number of UK locations and with a variety of subjects.
I recently spent a day at their female kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) hide in Worchestershire and below are some of the results.
And then in typical UK style the weather changed from nice bright white clouds to rain and at one point, hail. This is where hides really come in to their own, providing a steady and sturdy platform to continue to work from, as long as you have a willing subject of course.
The majority of us would love to have our own permanent hides set up, especially to ensure a element of originality, but the reality is that it takes a lot of investment, in time more then anything, to coax a subject to the point that it makes an appearance on daily basis. It can take a couple of years or more to get to the stage where you have a workable and reliable site.
For those of us that are not full-time professionals, and have limited free time, professionally run solutions such as Nature Photography Hides are a viable option for getting our wildlife photography fix.
30 years ago Wales had a mere handful of breeding pairs of Red Kites (Milvus Milvus), a fact that’s hard to believe when you spend the afternoon at Gigrin Farm with a spiralling mass of over 400 (can be less or a lot more depending on the weather and time of year) of these beautiful raptors filling the sky at feeding time.
Feeding stations have become an important element in the RSPB’s Red Kite conservation programme and ever since 1992 when Gigrin Farm was first approached, it’s been playing its very important role extremely successfully.
Now a true Welsh tourist attraction, Gigrin Farm is owned and run by Chris and Lena Powell and consists of 200 acres of land starting at 700 feet and rising to 1200 above sea level located in Rhayader in the Wye and Elan valleys in mid-Wales.
Gigrin is also the Red Kite Rehabilitation Centre in conjunction with The Welsh Kite Trust.
Admission to the feeding station for adults costs £5.00, for O.A.P £4.00 and for Children £3.00 (with 4yrs and under allowed in Free)
There are a number of conveniently located hides specifically aimed at photographers and film makers with costs starting at £12pp for ground level (accessible by wheelchair), rising to £22pp for the Big Tower Hide. The Big Tower hide can accomodate 6 photographers with tripods or 8 without, so reserving your spot with Chris Powell in advance is advisable, as it’s very popular.
(Prices correct as of 10 Mar 2014)
Red Kites are instantly recognisable in flight with their distinctive forked tails (fanned when diving) and striking colour, which is predominantly chestnut red with white patches under the wings and a pale grey head. It’s a medium-large bird of prey (females being slightly larger then the males) in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. Vagrant Red Kites have even reached north to Finland and south to Israel, Libya and Gambia.
When the feeding starts there is definitely a pecking order with the older birds going first followed by the younger and then juvenile birds. You’ll witness some spectacular aerial acrobatics with amazing displays of twists, turns, diving and feeding on the wing.
Frequent visitors to the station are a pair of White or Leucistic (reduced pigment) Red Kites. Normally at a distinct disadvantage in the wild but they’ve been accepted here by the other raptors.
Gigrin’s kite feeding – using prime beef – takes place at 2pm GMT or 3pm BST every day.
I can’t believe it’s a year since the last time I visited Richmond Park in London to photograph the annual Red Deer rut.
It’s quite an experience wandering through parks such as Richmond during the rutting season and before the sun comes up. Spookily quiet with only the distant roars of stags (Jurassic Park springs to mind!). Sticking to the main road arteries while it’s dark would always be my advice for obvious reasons and you’re also quite often reassuringly, passed by park warden vehicles.
And when you do start to see deer they’re often just dark outlines against a cold colourless backdrop . . .
I usually prefer to wait for a certain set of natural conditions before making my way up from Kent. In order to attempt to create images of Red Deer with a certain amount of atmospheric presence. I like it when the early morning temperatures start to fall below 4 degrees Celsius (lower would be even better) and for a cloudless sky at sunrise lasting for at least an hour afterwards.
I didn’t witness as much aggressiveness this year (maybe I’m too late – harems already seem to be in place), just a lot of roaring and strutting. So, no fighting shots.
With it being such a nice morning it wasn’t long before I was joined by likeminded photographers, at least 25 in my immediate vicinity . . .
I’m just waiting for the ideal conditions once more, hopefully before the rut ends, to make the trip again . . .
It was August 2009 when I last photographed European water voles in their natural environment, so when the opportunity came along recently to photograph them again, I jumped at the chance.
When Kenneth Grahame put pen to paper at the turn of the last century to capture the exploits of Ratty, Mole and Toad in The Wind In The Willows, water voles were a regular sight in our country’s streams and waterways.
Driven to the brink of extinction in the 1980s and 1990s from pollution, habitat destruction and predation by the North American mink, the water vole had the unenviable title of the “UK’s fastest declining native animal”.
With populations having dropped by an incredible 95 percent from the 1960s and conservationists warning of total extinction, plans were put in place to protect this much-loved animal.
With the North American mink seen as the main threat, reserves, local councils and conservationists alike have been controlling mink numbers whilst at the same time creating and improving water vole habitat. There has also been the deployment of a number of successful captive breeding and reintroduction schemes (although disease has hampered efforts). The cumulative result (as well as improved protection under the revised Wildlife and Countryside Act) has seen “Ratty” return with a vengeance to many rivers across the country.
One WWT centre even reported colonies of 2,000 earlier this year when the same spots in 2007 yielded fewer then 10 animals!
Some water vole facts . . .
- The term – Ratty – was derived from confusion over similarities with the brown rat (it’s often informally called the Water Rat). However, the water vole is very different and can be distinguished by its blunt nose, neat fur covered ears and a furry tail (and it’s cuter of course!)
- On average, water voles live for less then 1 year in the wild, but have been known to live for up to two and half years in captivity.
- Water voles reach 140–220 millimetres in length (excl tail) and have to eat at least 80% of their body weight (which is 60 – 360gms) a day just to survive.
- Water voles are expert swimmers and divers.
- They live in, and excavate, complex multi-story burrows often on the banks of rivers and streams, normally located adjacent to slow moving, calm water. The burrows normally contain numerous nesting chambers just in case of flooding as well as a food store for long winters.
- With several litters possible, water voles can produce up to 30 young in one summer.
- Sadly, 70 percent of young water voles die before their first winter, as a result of predation from domestic cats, North American Mink, weasels, foxes, owls, herons, stoats, snakes and more.
- Despite their cute appearance both male and female water voles are often aggressive if another invades their territory. During fights, often with high-pitched squeals, chunks of fur can be ripped off.
- Unfortunately, in most of Europe water voles are seen as an agricultural pest, and in some parts of Russia they are killed for their fur.
The Environmental Agency’s 2010 survey showed new strongholds in Wales, Scotland, Cumbria and the Norfolk Broads and this year saw comebacks at sites in the Midlands, Gloucestershire and North Yorkshire.
So, things do seem to be looking up for “Ratty”, but we mustn’t get complacent, they still need a lot of help. The life of a water vole is an extremely fragile one and no matter how successful the various protection schemes are, I find it hard to imagine that we will ever return to the pre 1960’s population figures of 8 million. But you never know!