Spring might be in the air but its not actually anywhere near here yet so we are still in winter mode when it comes to wildlife. And unless you are jetting off to sunnier climes this means taking advantage of what the UK has to offer, and despite imagined appearances there is plenty out there. Days are short so planning and research are essential.
Three natural and fairly common wintery phenomena which can transform a subject from not worth a second glance into an absolute winner are:
A good hoar frost that sets its spikes of ice on all the world makes a fantastic backdrop for any photograph of an animal in the landscape and often under the macro lens there are some great opportunities to use the encrustation to produce beautiful abstracts of otherwise everyday subjects.
- Winter light
If there is any, the light in mid winter can produce dramatic effects as it is never very high in the sky. In the morning or late afternoon when it is redder and lower it can be a striking lightening flash light particularly against a stormy backdrop. Suss out a good spot for a landscape and then wait.
Imagine a Red deer stag blowing a cloud of warm air into the misty chill of morning, head tipped back, antlers trailing in silhouette with the lemon glow of the rising sun behind him. Find a deer park near you, recce for the best locations and angles and keep checking the weather forecast.
If you can find any secure shelter when some big waves are pounding the coast then they can be a great backdrop for seabirds/wader/wildfowl pictures. In last year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition no less than three wave/gull images won places, all panoramic formats. Take care with gear though – salty water . . . uggghhh!
- Analyse and Criticise
Long, dark, dull, football-less evenings. . . are the perfect time to review your years work. Look back at your images and see what went wrong, explore with a very critical eye your ‘so nearlys’ and maybe make a list of things which you might ‘re shoot’ in the coming season. You never know, you might even find a picture that slipped through the net the first time around.
- Set up some tanks
Now is the time to buy/build and furnish some outdoor tanks ready for the spring when all the frogs, newts, and bugs begin to breed. This will give them time to ‘settle down’ and not look like they have just been thrown together in a muddy mess five minutes before the animals were netted out of your pond and into your set!
- Use a hide
Even in the garden you can get closer to birds if you use a hide (and no one will nick it) but some public hides really come into their own for photography in winter when the rising tides/floodwaters push the birds closer to you. Check the tides and recce the hides for one where you can also get a lower viewpoint – so much nicer than looking down on your subject.
- Road kill gets results
With Buzzards nearly common everywhere you should be able to find a spot where you can put up/build a hide and bait with road kill. Tether it down by tying it firmly to some stakes driven into the ground or else Mr. Fox will steal it or your subject may drag it way. It’s best to get a stack of stuff stored in an old freezer so that once you start baiting you can keep going until you get a result. Feed the creature’s habit.
- Go to a roost
Knot, starlings, even pied wagtails gather in huge numbers when they roost in winter and, depending on their individual habits, they can offer great opportunities when the birds are ‘en masse’. Crows, rooks and jackdaws do the same and against a fiery sunset these can look like swirls of bonfires ash.
- Have a day out at Gigrin Farm
Winter feeds are at 2pm and at this time of year a huge number of red kites, ravens and buzzards go berserk in front of the superb hides on this amazing facility near Rhayader in mid Wales. You can get brilliant photos on your mobile phone so there’s no excuse not to get some stonkers with a medium telephoto. www.gigrin.co.uk