Okay its coldish and wetish, maybe a bit windyish too but January can be a great time to get your coat on and get down and dirty with Britain’s wildlife. We’re blessed to be inundated with thousands of wintering waders and wildfowl on the bird front and the harsher conditions mean that many other species are more obliging at this time of year. There’s not a lot of blooming or buzzing going on but with the leaves off the trees it makes it much easier to see what’s in the woods. Practical tips? Shower caps are a kit bag must for me, perfect for keeping rain off the lens and a rustle-free ground sheet saves a muddy front. And a flask and plenty of chocolate. I always wear thermals too, even when its not that cold if you lay down and don’t move for hours . . . you will be!
The coast is the place to find vast flocks of ducks, geese and waders. For the best of the action you must check the tides, you need it coming in as its then that the millions swirl about moving to their roosts. Low light is nice too and its often best to forsake the shelter of the hide for better all round visibility.
Some birds are better than others, so check the web to see if any superstars are near your patch. Bitterns are regular reedbed posers and will loiter near hides giving birders a thrill so with some planning and patience you could burn one of these beauties onto your sensor.
Probably the best birds in the world?
Starlings are the ultimate flocksters and their remarkable ballets en masse are still topping the charts long after the beer went flat. Slow exposures and black and whites have both provided photographers with winning images in recent years so you’ll need to be imaginative to re–envisage this subject.
Remember – if you feed them they will come . . . especially when food is harder to find. So fill up your feeders and scatter your scraps to attract everything from finches to foxes to your garden, which you can dress up with sets to transform No 27 into anything you like!
At this time of year the bumbling black and whiters come out earlier, there are no midges and there is no bracken for them to hide in. Pre focus, pre-set flashguns, pre feed with peanuts and prepare to be quiet. At the first flash they will flee but after a few they wont even stop munching.
Deer in the Clear
Frankly you won’t catch me anywhere out of Richmond Park but if you fancy a bit of sportier stalking then now is the time when these big animals are easiest to spot. Remember it cuts both ways tho’ – they can see you too. Following will lead to failure, its all about finding a spot, a wallow, track or food source and then hiding and waiting.
Don’t sneer at Squirrels
Red or Grey, its okay to turn your lenses on these familiar and biddable mammals. I know they’re not as exotic as Tigers or as popular as Penguins but they live near you and therefore are far more accessible subjects providing endless opportunities. And they’ll do anything for a peanut!
Pray for Snow
At the first flake drop everything, leave your partner to do the snowman and go for snow. It transforms even the most mundane location with its sublime capacity to simplify the environment and isolate subjects. Try and shoot whilst its falling too, the veil of confetti softens your picture and is sooo romantic.
A neglected topic but far from dull. When subjects are fewer between I like to search for pictures where I can take total control and use the varied winter light to wash with. Feathers on ponds, lichen covered skulls, fallen antlers or frozen leaves have all drawn my lens and produced some nice images.
Not so Wild Life
At this time of year the drakes are in their finest attire and plenty of species are looking pretty special. So why not spent a day at one of the Wildfowl and Wetland trust reserves scattered around the UK where you can happy-snappy within reach of the café with subjects who wont be flying away all day. Get low and sometimes they can almost look wild too! www.wwt.org
Cop Out and get on a Jet
Tempting offers to go somewhere with some winter warmth are tough to resist. The Gambia is a top spot for birds and only a short flight away – we are going next month for ten days of top photo action, tame exotics only metres from the pool and plenty of guides to point you in the right direction. Add chimps, crocodiles and dolphins and it’s a must. www.gambia.co.uk
Remember when it comes to wildlife its not patience, its good research that will pay the most dividends. Browse, phone, ask, check, plan and consider before you pick up your kit.