My Nature Reserve, Photography and Reconnoitring an Area for Wildlife Photography

May 05, 2016  •  5 Comments

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Every time we go to our nature reserve, which is situated on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, we see 2 Jays. Usually they are at the opposite end of where we are, but they are always there. I'll have to set up my hide to photograph these beauties and, with my past experience with jays; it will be a long wait before I get the photos I want. Whilst working on the path in the wood I came across a dead Roe deer in amongst two fallen trees. I tried to examine the body to determine the cause of death with no luck. Afterwards I wished I had not moved it because it really stank and I could not get rid of the smell off my hands or out of my nose.

I have now stopped cutting branches on the reserve until winter for two reasons, one because they are in leaf and two because we have no more room to store the wood at home. As I have said before I will be marking some trees for coppicing to let in more light on to the woodland floor. Another light blocking factor is that there is quite a bit of Ivy on a lot of the trees and I will be removing some of it, not all because it attracts a lot of insects for birds and bats to eat. The Badgers are “pooing” well as one of their latrines is nearly full, they really are clean animals. The Fox on the other hand just poo’s outside its front door! We have new Otter prints down by the river, I wish I had one of those camera traps, another hide job when I have time. Finally two more Newts were seen, both a bit smaller, in another pond down by the river Tavy. They really are hard to spot not only because of the glare on the water but also because they blend in so well with all the twigs and silt which camouflages them.


I went out early on Dartmoor on Saturday morning to search for the Cuckoo which I had seen on Friday. After taking about fifty steps away from my car I had a male Wheatear land just a few feet away from me. As he was too close for me to focus I had to walk away from it to get some images. Lucky for me I always have my camera ready to shoot just in case something like this happens. A few years ago I was walking, very early in the morning, with a friend at Rutland water ( We were the only ones there and as we were walking to a hide I said to him “being so early we might see a fox”. He poo pooed the idea and carried on walking. We arrived at the hide and entered. I opened the viewing window and there right in front of me was a fox. I grabbed my bag and started getting my camera out. As per usual when you want to do something fast it took ages, the zip would not come undone, lens caught up in the strap etc. When I finally was ready to take a photo the fox had gone, died of old age I expect. Lesson learnt as since that day I always have my camera ready to shoot and this has helped me out several times. I carried on walking and settled on some granite rocks where I had great fun photographing wheatears and Skylarks. After an hour or so I moved on to another location surrounding myself with gorse bushes. Once I settled down it did not take long for the birds to reappear. There were Wrens, Stonechats, Chaffinches, Meadow Pipits, Reed buntings, Linnets, Buzzards, Crows, Rooks, Magpies and a Willow Warbler which was singing away. I headed home once the light got a bit too harsh with no sight or sound of the cuckoo. I was out early again on Sunday but this time I wanted more photos of the willow warbler and the linnets. I went and sat on a Dartmoor granite rock in amongst gorse bushes but there was also a fallen tree with bare branches. After waiting about half an hour the birds appeared and for about three hours I was photographing linnets, wrens, stonechats and the singing willow warbler on gorse and on the branches of the dead tree. Again there was no sight or sound of the cuckoo. Then again Dartmoor is a big place and the area I saw it is covered in gorse bushes with numerous birds’ nests for the cuckoo to lay their eggs in. Next week I will try another location where there was a cuckoo there last year, I'll keep my fingers crossed.


So, how did I know where to sit and wait for the birds? It's all because I reconnoitred the area for wildlife and all wildlife photographers should do this. I have mentioned before that photographing wildlife is down to luck because wildlife does its own thing. But, you can increase your luck by reconnoitring an area. What do I mean by reconnoitring an area? Well pick an area of land which is close to where you live as this will stop the “It's too far away” excuse. Then walk the area, not just once, walk it early in the morning, mid-morning, early afternoon, late afternoon and evening time. When I say this I don't mean walk it all day long, just pick a time but vary the time. Try and walk it every day of the week. If you have a dog, and are allowed to, walk the dog there. If you can, have a picnic there, sit on a rock or take a chair and sit for a hour or so just chilling and do a lot of this regularly. I have only been living in Dartmoor for nearly three years and I have four areas that I regularly visit. Two more than the other two, because they are further away Doh!, but I try and get to the other two as regularly as possible. What you are doing is spending time looking and listening at the wildlife that is there. Yes I know you might walk it once with your camera and get lucky but then again you might walk it once and see nothing. Let me tell you there is wildlife everywhere you just have to look and listen for it. When you have spent some time in your area you will notice where the birds like to fly, eat, perch, preen etc. You will see what other wildlife is around like rabbits, hares, foxes, badgers (if this wonderful government of ours doesn't kill them all), deer, snakes, mice etc. You will see where they play and where their runs are. You will see things that you w"on't see on just a couple of visits. This is all great information for the wildlife photographer because once armed with this information he or she can set up a hide or camouflage themselves in a good position to get the shots they want with the right direction of light and a good background. There used to be a saying “no pain, no gain” which, in this instance means, if you don't put the work and effort in, you will not reap the rewards. So when I was sitting down by our stretch of the river Tavy on Wednesday evening drinking a cold beer, I was not enjoying myself, I was working. Happy hunting (with your camera).


Steve Williams(non-registered)
Good advice, Robin, about getting to know your patch under different conditions and just observing what is there at different times of the day and year.
The same can be true of landscape photography as well - some of the best work of noted photographers is their local area (albeit several hundred square miles in some cases). A good example is Ian Cameron in Northern Scotland ( I wander lanes around where I live, (edge of the Fens), and try to view the same places in different lighting conditions. I try to visualise where would be good to come back to in winter, in summer with the ripening crops, in autumn with the changing leaves, etc, etc. Amazing how regular visits help one see changes - I have an example where a line of trees has been removed and this has completely changed the balance of the view there.
The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE) helps with understanding the direction and time of dawn and dusk at locations too.
Keep up the good work.
Mick ladner.(non-registered)
Hi Robin
Good advice thanks
Regards Mick.
Mark Walters(non-registered)
Hi Robin,
Interesting blog and good advice - as usual!
Many thanks,
richard kinson(non-registered)
Another good read, something I shall certainly practice
Karen Elizabeth(non-registered)
Another delightful blog Robin. I really enjoy reading them even though I am not very much into photography. There is something for everyone :)
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