Tag Archives: Winter

Motswari Private Game Reserve, Timbavati, Kruger

Male pride lion at night, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Male pride Lion at night, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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).

Pearl-spotted owlet at first light. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Pearl-spotted owlet at first light. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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.

Female leopard, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Female leopard, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

The sun had gone by the time we spotted this female Leopard. Really pushing the camera’s limits. Might be time for an upgrade!!!

Female leopard, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female leopard, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Young male lion hunting, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Young male lion hunting, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Male pride Lion, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Male pride Lion, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Impala Buck in evening light, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Impala Buck in evening light, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Waterbuck, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Female Waterbuck, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Male adult Kudu, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Male adult Kudu, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Water Buffalo with Red-billed Oxpecker, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Water Buffalo with Red-billed Oxpecker, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Water Buffalo with Red-billed Oxpecker, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Water Buffalo with Red-billed Oxpecker, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

African Bush Elephants, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

African Bush Elephants, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

African Bush Elephant, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

African Bush Elephant, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

African Bush Elephants, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

African Bush Elephants, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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.

Hyena adult male, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Hyena adult male, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Hyena male, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Hyena male, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Hyena with Buffalo leg, Motswari Private Game Reserve.

Hyena with Buffalo leg, Motswari Private Game Reserve. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

I really enjoyed my time and the experience at Motswari and will definitely be back.

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Wildlife Photography Hides

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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.

Nature Photography Hides is one such company and is my preferred choice. The company was set up by Danny Green and Mark Hancox about four years ago and has become extremely popular.

I recently spent a day at their female kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) hide in Worchestershire and below are some of the results.

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel using moss to preen.Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female Kestrel using moss to preen. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel preening. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female Kestrel preening. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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.

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel in driving rain feeding on a field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female Kestrel in driving rain feeding on a field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel using wet post to preen. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female Kestrel using wet post to preen. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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.

Red Kites at Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, Wales

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.

Red Kites in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of Red Kites in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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 Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK, Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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.

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite twisting and diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Juvenile Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an juvenile Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite feeding over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

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.

Leucistic Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Leucistic Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Leucistic Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Leucistic Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Expect to also see Carrion Crows, Ravens, Common Buzzard and Heron as they also frequent the station.

Common Buzzard perched in a tree on farmland in mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Common Buzzard perched in a tree on farmland in mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Common Buzzard in flight over Gigrin Farm in mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Common Buzzard in flight over Gigrin Farm in mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Gigrin’s kite feeding – using prime beef – takes place at 2pm GMT or 3pm BST every day.

Red Deer stags Richmond Park

Red Deer stag Richmond Park, London, UK

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 . . .

Red Deer stag Richmond Park, London, UK

Red Deer stag standing in the mist before sunrise in Richmond Park, UK

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.

Red Deer stag Richmond Park, London, UK

Red Deer stag (Cervus elaphus) during a golden and misty sunrise, Richmond Park, UK

Red Deer stag Richmond Park, London, UK

Red Deer stag (Cervus elaphus) on a golden and misty sunrise, Richmond, UK

Red Deer stag Richmond Park, London, UK

Red Deer stag (Cervus elaphus) on a golden and misty sunrise, Richmond, UK

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 . . .

Red Deer photographer, Richmond Park, London

Photo of a photographer at the Red Deer rut, Richmond Park, London

I’m just waiting for the ideal conditions once more, hopefully before the rut ends, to make the trip again . . .

Wintering Snow Buntings

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/1250sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

One bird species that I’ve wanted to photograph for some time now is the Snow Bunting. In the UK they are most commonly seen in the winter, arriving from late September and leaving late February early March. Each year an estimated 10-15,000 birds winter here, with the majority staying in the northern regions. However, they can come as far south as the Kent and Welsh coasts as well as some parts of Northern and the Republic of Ireland. A region that they tend to frequent on a regular basis is the North Norfolk coast and although I’ve seen them plenty of times at several well-known locations, I’ve never managed to successfully photograph them until this year.

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting (female), Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

The aptly-named snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) is a hardy, medium-sized songbird of the high Arctic. During the breeding season, the adult male snow bunting is largely snowy white, except for a contrasting black back, black wing tips and black central tail feathers. Outside of the breeding season, the male and female snow bunting are more similar in appearance, both developing more buffy plumage. Juvenile snow buntings are distinguished from the adult by a greyer body and head, and a dark brownish-black tail and wings.

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting (female), Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting (female), Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting (female), Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting in flight - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Next challenge is to photograph the male in its breeding plumage in the summer!!!

Best wishes for 2012

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many blogs throughout 2012 and beyond.

It was a quiet Christmas and New Year, but I still managed to get out and about a bit, mainly on the North Norfolk coast and mainly to walk off excess food and drink. No wonder this is the peak time for gym membership registrations!

I decided to take the 45min trip from Holt, where I was based for the Christmas Period, to Winterton-On-Sea to photograph the relatively large Grey Seal colony between Winteron and Horsey. The beach is a popular destination for walkers and their dogs, and despite some people’s views you can’t really deny someone the enjoyment of viewing this spectacle first hand. Some people may have been getting too close but on the whole I witnessed extremely good behaviour and very little disturbance. Adult females were quick to come to the protection of their pups and were constantly on alert, not just from the human and dog population but from amorous males.

Grey Seals fighting in the surf

An over amorous male Grey Seal is seen off by a female - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5, 1/1250sec, ISO 400 - © Andrew Sproule

It was great to witness a Grey Seal mother taking her pup for a swim. It wasn’t that keen but mum was there to reassure with a gentle pat on the head.

Female Grey Seal reassures her pup

A female Grey Seal reassures her pup during a swimming lesson - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5.6, 1/640sec, ISO 640 - © Andrew Sproule

Grey Seal Pup

Grey Seal pup on the beach at Winterton-On-Sea - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5, 1/400sec, ISO 640 - © Andrew Sproule

Grey Seal pup

Grey Seal pup on Winterton-On-Sea beach - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5, 1/400sec, ISO 640 - © Andrew Sproule

On the way back to the beach car park I was greeted by a wonderful sunset over Winterton’s All Saints Church.

The Dunes at Winterton

The sun starts to go down over Winterton-On-Sea - Canon 1D4, Canon 15mm Fisheye f/2.8 @ f/8, 1/500sec, ISO 640 - © Andrew Sproule

Sunset over Winterton-On-Sea

The sun goes down over Winteron-On-Sea - Canon 1D4, Canon 24-105mm IS USM f/4 @ 105mm and f/16, 1/320 sec, ISO 200 - © Andrew Sproule

Sunset over Winterton-On-Sea

The sun goes down over Winterton-On-Sea - Canon 1D4, Canon 24-105mm IS USM f/4 @ 105mm and f/11, 1/2500sec, ISO 200 - © Andrew Sproule