Thursday, 22 November 2012

Jackpot with Badgers

From my recent post i told everyone about the badger sett that i have been stalking lately. Although the times i spend there are restricted with early darkness upo us. The one way i could monitor the sett was by using a camera trap. My previous attempts at this last month were a massive fail. All of my footage was of group of rats acting up in front of the camera. Exciting as it might be to actually get something on the camera, my phobia of theses little beasts just made it torture to go through all the clips. However a lesson learnt for the position of the camera. On my return to the sett i had a think on the position of the camera, and tracked what looked like the most used entrance/exit, the trail that looked most used. I set the camera up, and thought i would test it out, i moved location and proceeded to crawl through the dirt and trees to see what level the camera sensor would trigger and at what distance it would pick something up. Happy with the height, switched from set up mode to on, hoping these black and white striped beasts would come on show. Having being preoccupied  with other things for the majority of a week, i had totally forgot about the trap, until yesterday. On arrival to the sett i explored more of the area to get a better understanding of the location and what areas the badgers used. From having a good scout around, i spotted more entrances form different area. Having originally thought that these will most likely be neighbouring setts, a bit of research found that these entrances could possibly lead to the main chamber of the central sett. Records show one sett was found to have over 310 meters of tunnels that led to a sleeping chamber. Totally mind blowing.
Once back at the original sett, it was quite noticeable of the movement over the week, bedding had been excluded and fresh was taken in. The latrine near by was full of fresh nasties. I grabbed the camera trap and off i went back to the car, checking the files on the way making sure the card had something on it. Card full...... magic, please no rats though.
Back on home i wapped the SD card in the mac, and watched the videos with a massive smile, 251 clips of badgers!! 

On the first clips, it was clear that the badgers knew something wasnt right, a set of eyes could be seen peering over the mound of soil, staring at the camera, unsure what to make of it.

As the rest of the night continues the badgers are cautious of the camer and keep to the side of the mound they feel comfortable on, carefully watching the infrared light every so often. 
During the next night, they seem to become a bit more used the to the camera and venturing closer to it, but still keeping an eye on it, just incase.

Watching the videos, you can get a good understanding on the activity that they get up to, scent marking on the trees, showing some playful aggression.

The getting too used to the camera and readjusting it to the position they think, camera badgers in the making.

Monday, 19 November 2012

A much needed update!!

Looking back at this blog, and I was shocked at the last time that I actually made an update. Three months have passed since my posts about my ventures back home in Northumberland. September seen me arrive back in Cumbria full time, continuing into the second year of my degree 'Wildlife and Media', and trying to earn a crust at work. Im ashamed to say that my photography had taken a back seat over these months. Getting my head back in the game of essays and academics was not as easy as i thought it was going to be. The summer air and wildlife hypes had gone to head and washed away any thought that it was going to go over so quickly. Anyhow its now November and most of my assignments are done, and its well seen. From handing in the most recent work, my camera has lept out of my bag and straight into my hand. A tube of super glue is needed if any more work is going to come my way. I cant be having the Canon mistress on the back seat no more.
I have been trying to sort out business plans for an attempt to start my own. Continuously working with a business advisor , i have managed to complete plans and funding. I have also managed to gain a permanent residency for my work in Newbiggin Maritime Centre, which items are currently up for sale, as well as communicating with Cumbrian business to try and do the same on the west side of the country.
I say i have done no photography, but i have been spending time exploring the area where i have moved for wildlife, working on the potential. Trips to Martindale to witness the red deer rutting was one spectacle that i witnessed this year, and great views to see it from.  I live not far from a river, which is very promising, spotted a Kingfisher many of times. The signs of a Fox also lurks the farmland, but everyone shares my enthusiasm on this. I have also just recently placed a camera trap at a badger sett,the first attempt was a massive fail and the memory card was filled up within an hour by a very active brown rat, who seemed to love the camera too much, but hopefully the camera is still snapping away, and not been once again overtaken by a rat or worse robbed. I have spent many nights sitting along side the sett watching these black and white beauties, although i was petrified, its still great to see the activities of the badger.

Last week i took advantage of the Waxwing ventures. A large number of birds flowing down from Carlisle arrived around the Penrith area and have furiously been stripping the rowan trees of their berries. A first for me to witness these birds, and i wasnt disappointed when i did finally catch up with them. I have to say, it is one of the best looking birds I've seen, although thats not hard, i live in Penrith and a crocodile on speed would be better looking than the women around here.
Around fifty of these sexy beasts were seen fluttering around the Gillwilly industrial estate entrance, hoarding as many berries as possible. The birds currently wintering in the UK form the Scandinavian regions are a blessing for any photographer, happily sitting on a branch munching away and not bothered by your presence.

I have also just spent the weekend away and visited the Grey Seal colony at Donna Nook, its the time of year that the females come ashore and spend their time giving birth and to mate will the bull seals. Arriving at the campsite (Pigeon Cottage - great little site) on saturday morning and pitching a 2 man tent for 4 people was fun, especially looking inside and realising it was barely big enough to fit 1 person never mind 2. Once the tent was up, a short drive to the colony to spend the day trying out filming. Within second year of uni, we are required to start in the field of making films. So i thought this would be a great chance to do that. Looking back at the footage, there are some clips that my 'Trash' bin would be offended if i placed them in there, they were that bad. But others i cant wait to sink my teeth in and edit.  I didnt spend much time with photographyon this trip, ut he stills that did get didnt fail to make me smile.

After a good day, it was time for a pint, the sun was going down quickly and the temperature was rapidly declining. At around 6pm it was pitch black and we sat around thinking about what to do? so unfortunately the Mac came out the bag and we all had the eye bleeding torture of watching Austin Powers. possibly the worst experience of my life. After the film it was straight in to the tent to begin the sardine effect. All four of us, squashed, and literally bursting the seems fell straight asleep. During the night we all subconsciously alternated our positions, one person would roll on to their side so the other could lie on there back and front. We should have set a time lapse up, it would have been comical to watch. As the alarm clock rang at 6:30am, the whole tent moaned at the thought of trying to get up. Once we were out the tent, we all stared at the outer shell, it looked at though mother nature was converting the tent to an igloo. a nice sheet of frost/ice blanketed the cover. Once the tent was packed away and everything sorted, it was time to head back to Donna Nook to beat the public so we could record some sound for the films. The beach gets quite hectic when the seals come ashore, and the noise generated from excited children, and the "awwws' from parents can be too much for any mic.

We spent a good few hours before we decided the ride back home was to begin. Looking at the fuel gage it was scary to think that we might make it a petrol station. But we did, we fuelled up and carried on to approach the A1. Before arriving at scotch corner, to continue along the A66, we decided to bomb off the motorway and head to Studley Royal to take a gander at the deer within the grounds.
The alterante route proved to be a good choice, plenty of deer roaming around, red, fallow and sika deer. After an hour or so walking around we decided to call it a day and travel back home, but not before we sat inside a tree. We found an oak tree with a perfect hole to literally climb in. As we all climbed aboard, leaving our cameras in our bags, a barn owl flew by, so close for a frame filling shot with the smallest lens. Devastated, but the tree was fun!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

A Few MIles Up The Road

I left my last blog update with the entry of a beautiful Barn Owl, since that visit to a new site; I have found my self there nearly every night. Not only one Owl but number up to four, with sightings of Long Eared Owls and a few whispers of Short Eared Owls around that area too. Seems to be an amazing year for owls, with sightings of different species not too far part up and down the North East coast. My little trips have become routine, I think I might have fell in love with Owls a little too much, even started dreaming about the silent hunters. But how can you not, when a creature I find so mesmerising and majestic to watch. Sightings are so close, at times you could just reach, grab and pet., you might be minus a few fingers and clawed to death,, but sometimes it is possible. From driving up the road, the barn owl can be seen gliding from field to field, scowering the land for a meal, and returning to the barn with successful finds, and not but a mile up form the road another pair can be seen. The later night trips out seem to be easier for me to handle, my body doesn’t seem to complain as much with a 8 at night start. I have struggled with an early morning outing, I need to invest in an alarm clock with no snooze button, I think I might have ran out of fingers on my hands to say the “I can count on these hands how many times ive slept in”. Even though I tell my self every night “ I will get up early, I will get up early”, I just cant do it. That might show lack of dedication, but thats not the case, half the time i don't know I'm pressing snooze, when i go to sleep, i must turn into Jekyl or Hyde? 

The evening shots are great, but the time is limited with the sun setting, there is only so much time you can spend before the ISO is boosted and the images are as grainy as sand, the owls normal time to come out and play don’t seem to want to match with the light needed to get a great shot. At times I just go out just to watch, and others I just wish I managed the morning so the light was on my side, but its great to see them doing so well. Although I have not seen any fledglings of owlets yet, I am hopeful since a pair seems to taking a lot of food back to the barns. However talking to a few people, the Owls should be up and ready about now since the breeding happens earlier in the year. Stories have been told of a few pair with owlets, but like I say, nothing to be seen yet. Form the Barn Owls, however a successful pair of Long Eared owls have just parted with their newly ringed owlets, which again boosts the anticipation for a great year for owls, and the majority of migrating owls staying put.

Having watched them for a few nights I decided to try and break the routine and head back to my patch and check on how the Fox den was doing, Not very much activity, but then again I have not exactly sussed out their timings and the usual times they decide to leave the den, apart form one cub who likes to bask in the light in a secluded spot. So a much needed hide has just purchased, which I’m hoping to set up once delivery has been taken, and then a purchase of a camera trap which will have to wait a while longer, since the pockets have seemed to stop stretching (there’s only so much stretching you can do you have enough space to park a double decker bus).  But I am pleased that they seem to enjoying them selves around that area. My only concern is for the two-legged rats that walk around with their dogs. Some peoples thoughts on wildlife, is how to kill it, I don’t seem to understand how people can watch in satisfaction whilst their pets rip shreds out of other animals, obviously not right in the head.

            Anyway…. after quite little chat with my self, I made my self get up early one morning, it was painful, but the tiresome efforts of trying to get good shots at night was leaving me restless, and the determination to get a half decent shot was making me feel like I needed to get up.  So it was half two in the morning, and I decided to go to sleep, (this probably answers the question on why I cant get up, but hey ho) and the alarm rand at 5am, I have to admit a small snooze of ten mins happened, but after that a give my face a few slaps and sat up right trying to peel my eye lids apart. I could feel myself drifting back to sleep, so turned the mac on, wacked in the hard drive, and played a movie to entertain my eyes in to waking up. Was pleased I did it in away, watched a great film called The Big Miracle, amazing film about 3 gray whales tapped in ice around Alaska. A must for any wildlife enthusiast. So the  half the film was watched, and I was up ready and camera over my shoulder. Upon arrival to the site,  a sighting of the cuckoo I seen the previous night,  was sighted in exactly the same spot, and then not only a few seconds later, two barn owls hovering different parts of the march ponds. With what seemed like more time on their hands, the barn owls tended to spent the majority of their time of the odd fence post, but not any where near the hide that I was sitting in, of course the hide located across the filed was perfect for any kind of shot, it even got the point where I think you could have managed a macro shot. However I waited, and waited, telling my self that my luck would come and soon enough I would be leaving to drive home with a jam packed memory card and a huge smile on my face.  After what seemed to be a lifetime of waiting, they began to move, post by post, until literally I don’t think they could have got any closer to me. At this point I don’t think my cameras shutter button was pressed so hard in I’m surprised I didn’t push t through to the bottom of the camera. Frantic to get a great shot, I continued to press until I think the cameras processing speeds started to give up.  At this point the barn owl was growing restless of that spot, and up he rose, circled a bit then something must have caught its eye, it hovered up, then dived with talons fully extended. An amazing sighting to watch and to watch so close was even better. Although the catch was unsuccessful, it wasn’t long before tits talons were fully grasping food ready to be taken back to the nest  

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Patch of Secrets

Since my trip to Mull, I have spent a lot more time back in Northumberland, the majority of the time on my patch. And what a patch it has become. Species have came and left, but one that has been for quite a while, and just made its first appearance in front of me is the elusive Fox. I had spent the day, just out on a wonder, walking about casually, just taking in the fresh air. A careless attitude to the surroundings, blissfully watching the many swifts soaring around the skies, followed by the odd curlew and gull, until a Kestrel decided to make an appearance. On a fence post it landed, looking around, or even at one point just posing. I stopped and took a few photos, and decided to leave it be.

But this didn't seem to be what the bird had in mind. It followed me for the rest of the day. Every time I decided to change route it would come follow, from post to post, gate to gate, it just didn't want to leave, occasionally it would drop to the grass and prey on a slug, but again I think it was showing off.

The more I observed it, the more it would pose, from looking at its plumage this bird of prey was obviously new to this year and full of character. Two hours had passed, a lot of time with a wild Kestrel, and I decided to try and move on and leave the bird to a post.

Eventually I think it got the idea that I wasn't interested any more, or it took the huff that I put the camera away, as it quickly jumped up and span around and showed me its back, with a very few slight turns of the head to see what I was doing.

It was just comical to watch. Laughing in my head I started to walk off, a continued on a walk around the patch to see what else was kicking about.
Many tracks of sea birds found in the mud, more swifts and swallows in the sky, until I stumbled on what appeared to be Roe Deer tracks, I had heard stories of sightings of Deer around the neighbouring village and casually straying to different parts, but didn't think they had managed to venture this far. Walking through what seemed a timeless meadow, I ventured back on to the beaten track, only to look down it, and only to find a bird casually sat in the middle. With a borrowed pair of bins, I focused in on the bird............ the kestrel. I thought to my self "unbelievable", must have just been a lost good bye though, as I walked further, it kicked of the ground and plummeted down the hill, and into flight.

With a lot of meadow around and grassy areas, I thought it might be a good chance to see if I could get a fresher looking butterfly shot of some sort. Scanning the area, I could see little flutters here and there but nothing straight in front of me, the day was pretty warm so any cold blooded animal would be on top form, basking in all the suns heat. As I walked on, I spotted a Meadow Brown butterfly, and followed it down a bank of grass. As it landed on a blade of grass I took my camera from my bag and changed lenses for a macro.

One shot is all I got (a pretty poor shot), until a damsel fly caught my attention, as it flittered away to the point where I was nearly cross eyed looking for it, I happened to glance down, and there it was, staring at me, a beautiful Fox. Body nestled in the grass, head peering through the weeds of ragwort, a beautiful coat of golden red fur over its face, with a snowy white chest.  Its glance changing direction ever so slightly but not far enough to take my view out of sight. As my camera rose in the air, the expression changed, its body backed of a little, but stayed for quite a while to get a good number of shots. Its head turned, and body slinked with it, back into the grassy parting, it disappeared.

As I put my camera down, another appearance, but this time form another parting of grass and by a much bolder, older Fox, fur more duller, white chest more worn, and face with more years. What I'm assuming was the Vixen, she casually rose her head, gave me a stare, continued with her head rising, and sniffing the air, after a second or two, she turned and slowly retreated back, gracefully, with out any scurry or alarm. As if a silent warning had been given to me and she knew that I was to back off and leave them be. Delighted by the sighting, and not wanting to spend anymore time there than nesassary, obviously they were wanting to come out of then den and me being there was stopping this, I packed up and headed off. After a further walk along, my eyes must have told my jaw to hit the floor. Three more foxes, playing and lazing about on a heap of black ground dirt.

A few captures with the camera, and I was happy to leave it at that and return back to the car, and head off home. A great find, and lots of possible photographic opportunities buzzing around my head, with hopefully a few cogs getting moved in the thinking department.

After a few hours at home, i decided to head back out but this time look for a few Barn Owls, and i wasn't disappointed. As soon as i stepped out of the the car, sure enough there it was, in flight, doing its evening food shopping.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Wonders Of Mull

Been a tad busy over the past few weeks, completely moved out of halls, settled back home, with the occasional drive to work for the weekly torture shifts! But last week seen me and a group of friends drive up the west coast of Scotland on route to the Isle of Mull. The drive was long, as I started my journey from Northumberland to Penrith to pick up a few people for the trip and then to Carlisle to meet up the a few more people, and off we went. a few hops, skips, jumps and two ferries later we landed on Mull. What a beauty it was. Crystal clear waters, lush green grass, hills, valleys, waterfalls, it was like being in the setting for the next Jurassic Park film, less the dinosaurs of course. We drove to were our camp site was going to be for the next week, a beauty of a spot, located on the edge of Loch Na Keal. Amazing views though out. The waters a playground for otters, seals and porpoise, and the skies thermals creating a fantastic atmosphere for White Tailed Eagles and Golden Eagles. After we set up our tents and organised our selves we had a small walk around the site, the light was still on our side. Views of a White Tailed eagle could be seen with the female steadily seated in one of the conifers, bold as brass. The views behind us seen a small group of Fallow Deer grazing in fields. Amazed by what I had seen in less than 30 mins, it was sure to be a mind blowing trip.

The night had flown by, and we were all up ready to take a boat trip to the Treshnish Islands just to the west of Mull. On route to the trip we encountered a number of Otters within the loch shore swimming from rock to rock, a spectacle to see.
 The first island to land on was Staffa, as the boat ferried around the island, views of the infamous Finglas Cave could be seen. As we landed we climbed the steep steps up to the fresh green grassy land, walking around what seemed lifeless at first, until we headed over to the north east side where the cliffs were harboured with Fulmars and Guillemots, and the occasional Shag flying by.

After our short stay we headed back to the boat ready to take the journey to what I'm sure what is what everyone was waiting for, Lunga "a green jewel in peacock sea", the breeding ground for many puffins, gulliemots, and razorbills.

If you could add another wonder to the world then I would defiantly nominate the Isle of Mull for the entry. It has everything you could need. The endless amount of terrain, marine, marshland, woodland, moorland, with everyone playing habitat to an array of wildlife.

On one of the days at Mull we booked a trip with Sealife Surveys Whale Watching, and i have to say it is one of the best trips i have been on. Seven hours of pure bliss! I would recommend this trip to anyone, the amount of sighting of marine wildlife is outstanding. Basking sharks, Harbour Porpoise, Common Dolphins and Minke Whale. Whilst on the boat i encountered what i will say will be one of the most memorable sightings of my life, what seemed like a scene from Jaws except with no razor sharp teeth and massive amount of plankton, a basking shark swam direct for the boat, under and to the other side, obviously not bothered by the vessel.

And not long after a pod of Common Dolphins gave a good sighting.

And the biggest highlight of the day, a Minke Whale gave the biggest show of all, merging to the surface of the water, unfortunately no pictures of this close encounter as believe it or not, the lens i had on my camera was had a range to big to capture the massive creature, however I did manage to capture the Minke moments before.

Another trip be embarked on was the Eagle trip, which allowed us to get up close and personal with a number of White Tailed Eagles. Another amazing experience. This place was beginning to feel like paradise. WHat else could you want to capture an unreal amount of wildlife.

After our trips we explored more of the island to be continuously blown away by sightings. Short Eared  Owls hunting on on field, and glances to the next a Hen Harrier could be seen doing the same. Unbelievable.
From driving through the single track roads sightings of Red Deer were also spotted. After stopping the car, and agreeing to "try and snipe" over to them myself and Ciara, managed to get relatively close and refrained from disturbing them.

The wildlife around the Island is not the only thing Mull boats, there a plenty of opportunities for any amount of landscapes.

Monday, 18 June 2012

To the Farnes.

Last week I headed back to Northumberland, after a few weeks in Cumbria, and a campus more dead than a graveyard, it was needed. After seeing everyone back at home, it was time to grab some sleep and up early the following morning for the drive to the Farnes. Sleep never happened, done more tossing and turning than a horse with colic. However, the alarm clock rang, and I was ready within a minute. Cain arrived, and in the car we went. Along the coastal road, the sea looked a bit rough, but nothing too bad, just a bit choppy. However when we arrived at the booking point, we were told that the first trip of the day had been canceled because of the sea, Staple Island is said to be unsafe to land on in choppy waters, no worries though, the boat trip to Inner was still on, and also saved a tenna! Wondered around Seahouses for a bit of food, then moved on to another location around the area while waiting on afternoon trip to arrive. after a number of attempts to find the Beadnell Tern colonies, we finally walked across the sand dunes to a small hut around the banks of Beadnell Bay, Arctic Terns swamped the skies, one of the guys patrolling the site mentioned something about the Little Terns, and being not quite with it yet (legs were awake, brain was still trying to awake, and at one point my eyes were trying to get some REM) what he said went in one ear and out the other.

Got back to the Seahouses, and walked over to the booking point, the area was like walking around Aladdins cave for a camera man. Half of the owners of these cameras and lenses were old, I reckon if i did happen to accidentally snatch and grab, I would be back in Newbiggin by the time then they turned there false hips around to notice. 
So the booking lady, directed us down the harbour, and to our vessel of the day, Glad Tidings. The amount of people waiting to board the boat looked like a scene out of Titanic, and at one point this was after the boat sank. People just hanging from the steps, little old women inches from the water, and the skipper of the boat shouting at everyone, because the majority of people must of left there brains in the cars. After a good 15 mins watching the comical boarding the boat, we were aboard and off the the Farnes. the sea had calmed down a tad. On the boat there were good views of Bamburgh Castle and happily watched a Gannet fly by. 

As we arrived to Inner Farnes, we circled around and the amount of birds on the island was unbelievable. Puffins, Terns, Shags, Kittywakes, Razorbills, Guillemots... QUALITY.

As we landed on the island we gave our entry fees, and off we walked up. 

As we walked up, it was like experiencing World War 1, except instead of dive bombing planes, it was dive bombing Terns. 

Frightened to look up incase i had an eye removed, quickly moved to the top of the hill, thinking that the blitz would be over, however, World War 2 was quickly about to start. An amazing experience. The amount of birds, so close. Puffins could be seen landing, bills full of food, and scurrying in to their burrows, quickly evading the gulls ready to tackle them for the free fish supper. 

As i walked around the pathway to on end of the island many other birds could be seen nesting on the cliff face.

After moving around the island, i decided to walk around the old church, hiding from the Terns, they were on top form.

The 3 hours on the island flew by, we were back on the boat and heading back to the shore. Fantastic day, and a deffo return in the next 3-4 weeks. 

I spent the remainder of the day at home debating whether to return to Cumbria or not. so by 10oclock pm i was packed and driving back to happy human free Newton Rigg Campus.