Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon
Life is a funny thing! How many times have you started humming a tune, turn the radio on and there on the radio the DJ is playing the song you were humming. The boffins say we have a sixth sense but have either forgotten, or don’t know, how to use it. Well the other day my wife and I were driving back from our nature reserve and she started telling me about a hawk that flew along the road in front of her car the last time she drove away from our nature reserve. She described what happened and what the bird did and roughly what it looked like. Then she asked me what bird it was. I replied that with the information she gave me it was either a Hobby or a Sparrowhawk. She then added that it was brown. So I changed my mind and said that it could have been a Kestrel or a female Sparrowhawk. With that a female Sparrowhawk flew off a gate post on our right and landed in front of our car. It then took off, as we got nearer, and flew in front of the car, about 100mm to 150mm off the ground, for about 400 to 500 metres before flying up into a tree, question answered.
The next morning I was up about 6am and went downstairs to get out and about with Murphy. I looked through the lounge window, to see what the weather was doing. I noticed that there were no birds around in the garden, but there, sat on one of the bird feeders, was a female Sparrowhawk. I don’t think it was the same one as the night before because she appeared to be a bit bigger. She was looking straight at me with those bright yellow piercing eyes. All I thought was what a fantastic sight and then I thought did I lead her back home to my bird tables!
Whilst pottering around in our garden the other day I found a caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk moth. It was about 80mm long and about as thick as my little finger. I did not want to squash it so I picked it up and as I did that it started contracting its head into its body. This made the head swell up and the two dots on the side looked like eyes. I was absolutely fascinated with this so I watched what it would do next. The only thing it did was wiggle its tail in the air. I put it down out of harm’s way and after a few minutes it relaxed and continued with its daily routine.
The image below is from inglenookery https://www.inglenookery.com/
Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar
Whilst walking Murphy on the moor the other day I started watching a group of Linnets that were flying around. This group landed on a gorse bush in a small clearing. This clearing contained two gorse bushes and a small amount of bracken. Observing this clearing with my binoculars I noticed that apart from Linnets there were a few Goldfinches and a couple of Stonechats. Then something happened that, once again, I have never witnessed before. Most of the Linnets took off and started hovering just above one bush. Then the Goldfinches took off and started hovering as well and finally the Stonechats joined in and did the same. After about ten seconds they all landed in the bushes. About a minute later they all did it again starting with the Linnets, the Goldfinches and then the Stonechats. It was not very windy so I have no idea why they would want to do this. If you know then can you please tell me via the contact button on this page or via my Facebook page. Nature watching is absolutely fabulous and proves that we don't know it all.
When I got home on Friday night I immediately grabbed Murphy and took him out for a walk. I needed to calm down after another nightmare journey home. I went for a walk on the moor next to the village I live in, Peter Tavy. The walk starts off quite steep but then flattens out at the top. When I got to the top I wanted to stop and admire the view behind me. OK, the real reason I wanted to stop was because I was puffing and blowing and I needed some air. Before we moved down to Dartmoor in Devon, England we used to live on the Bedfordshire / Cambridgeshire border and the nearest thing to a big hill was a mole hill or a sod of earth. Don’t get me wrong it was lovely countryside but it was very flat. Down here in Devon you are either going up a hill or coming down one. I don’t baulk at walking up them but it does make me puff and I’m not getting any younger. The best thing about being at the top is the fantastic view you get. My view today was looking down at the Dartmoor village of Peter Tavy. To my extreme right was the church at North Brentor. I could see a few cars travelling on the A386 but their sound was being silenced by the slight breeze that was blowing and the cries from the four Buzzards that were hovering above me. Although the clouds were slowly rolling in, the sun was still trying to dominate my view with a few shafts of silver light shining down, lighting some green fields below. The fields were coloured in several shades of green until they faded away off into the distance. I was looking into this distance, dreaming, when I got brought back to reality by a tug on the lead by you know who.
The other night I went to our camera club in Tavistock to listen to a speaker, David Clapp (http://www.davidclapp.co.uk ), a landscape and travel photographer. Although he says he is an “award waiting” photographer he has achieved a lot in the few years he has been a photographer. He works for Canon Europe as a presenter and has been commissioned by several companies including Canon to do video, and still photography, work around the world. He was involved in “Power of Photography”, a DVD that is included with any new Canon camera. He is a workshop leader with “Light and Land” which is Charlie Waite’s leading photography workshop company. He also has stock photography with Getty images, Robert Harding and Arcaid. I know what you are thinking, there are lots of landscape and travel photographers so what's different about him? Well David applies his trade a little bit differently to most. He does not go to places and stick his tripod in the same three holes as everyone else. He goes there yes, but he looks around and takes photographs of other objects and scenes by thinking outside the box and using his creativity. He thinks so far out of the box that he cannot even see the box and the images he showed the club proved this. This is a photographer who said he can make an image of a farm yard muck spreader look good and he showed us the image to prove it. His images were great and his manner of talking was right down my street. The tones of his voice, seriousness at times and joviality in his speech were great. It’s no wonder that Canon use him for lectures at shows like Photokina, the Photography show and the Outdoor show. If you ever get a chance to go to one of his talks and listen to him, snap it up you will not be disappointed. One of the things I liked about him, and his images and blog on his website, is his taste for Dartmoor and the surrounding area. Also his use of long lenses for his photography. He brought along Canon's new 100mm-400mm f4.5-5.6 L mkii lens which he uses.
Canon 100-400mm L mkii(C)KenRockwell.com (760) 931-9500
I had a look at this lens as I am thinking of buying one as a "walk about" lens, when I'm with Murphy, for my wildlife photography rather than my 500mm f4 lens which is too heave as a "walk about" lens.
Before my wife and I moved down here to Dartmoor we used to visit regularly and during one of these trips we visited Bearslake Inn on the A386. Whilst we were in there, doing what people do in an inn, I noticed that there were several photographs on the wall, by Anna Curnow (http://www.asc-photography.com/ ), of Dartmoor tors. I stood there admiring her work for quite a while and then visited her great website. It stated that it “currently features photos that are predominantly from Dartmoor and Devon” which drew me in even more. She states that she “really loves the scenery that South West England has to offer especially Dartmoor”. She loves “exploring its wild moorlands and dappled valleys and its remote wilderness has a special beauty that she tries to capture in her landscape photography”. As I have mentioned before I wanted to live on or near Exmoor but due to my job location I had to move south. Whilst viewing Anna’s photographs it really set me in the mood that living on Dartmoor won’t be that bad. As stated above she wants to capture Dartmoor’s “special beauty in her photography” and I believe she does this. She is not one of these landscape photographers that simply takes a picture, turns up the saturation and hopes for the best. I know some of her images do look slightly over saturated, especially the sunsets, but any landscape photographer will tell you that during this “golden hour” the light is so warm that the colours you see are saturated so she is showing you the scene as it was presented to her. This lady has a very good eye for spotting a good landscape to photograph. Her only downside is that she does not do workshops – at the moment! That's a shame because my wife would go on one (Think about it Anna). Take a look at her photography by clicking on the link above. It’s so good that I have included a link on my Links page.
Now I'm going to talk about clothing for landscape photography or wildlife photography. I know this sounds a bit silly because I bet you are thinking well any clothing will do to take a photo. If you just go out, take the photo and then go back home then I agree that any clothing will do but if you are going out for quite a few hours or days then you really need to think about the clothes you wear. If you are not warm, or cool, and comfortable then you will lose interest quickly, rush things, and not put your best effort into getting the shot or, you will pack up early and possibly miss a great shot. This does not just relate to clothing but also to dealing with all the biting insects. So find an insect repellent that works for you as we are all different and one thing that works for one person might not work for someone else. There are several products on the market and most of them have deet or citronella in them to keep the insects away. These include products that I use which are Jungle Formula, Avon skin so soft and Autan protection plus. Be aware that some of these products are so strong they will burn through plastic and rubber so watch where you use the stuff and don’t get it near your camera equipment. On one photography trip to Scotland I went into a hide waiting to photograph Badgers and I put some insect repellent on my hands but wore a thick knit balaclava, like the bank robbers wear black, with the slits for my eyes, nose and mouth, on my head. It was not a stocking or a pair of tights, it was a balaclava. I just want to say that I never have, or intend to, wear stockings either on my head or anywhere else! Mind you they do look good, sorry I’ve got to get back on track! With the little red hearts NO! NO! NO! I digress, I stayed in the hide from 7pm till about 11pm when I started feeling sick. I packed up and walked back to the house. When I got into my bedroom I took off the balaclava and looked in the mirror. It’s not a good reflection at the best of times but this time it looked horrendous. My lips and nose were inflamed by the amount of insect bites and looked like they had long thin balloons, like the clowns use to make balloon animals with, around them. My eyes were so puffed up I looked like I had a disease Gold Fish get called Pop-Eye. They did not itch but it did make me feel sick, no not the reflection in the mirror, the swelling. I went to rinse my face with cold water and as I tried to unfasten my watch strap it fell off into the water as it was made of rubber and the insect repellent had burnt through it. So the night and experience was not good, no Badgers, no photos, no watch, feeling sick and a blown up head. I’ve had similar experiences but usually after going to a bar! But what it did teach me is whether I am outside in the open or in a hide I will always put insect repellent on, well if I remember!
Clothing - Starting from the ground up I usually wear stout waterproof walking boots if I am walking around. I wear these all the year round as I do not like walking in wellington boots unless I am going to be standing in a river or sitting with my feet dangling in water. I have two pairs of boots one for dry conditions and one for wet. The ones for dry conditions are made by Merrell and although they are Gore-tex and supposed to be waterproof, they have leaked from day one but they are very comfortable so I stuck with them. The ones for wet conditions are made by Salomon and although only £12 more than the Merrell’s I feel they are better made and really waterproof. It’s no good me telling you the name of the actual boots I wear because your feet will be different to mine, wider, narrower, taller etc. Go into an outdoors clothing store, Millets, Go Outdoors for instance, and try on as many make of boots as you can because they are all different. Just remember if you are looking for waterproof boots then, like most things, you get what you pay for so don’t skimp on this item. If I am going to be in a hide for a long time then I wear something different. If it is a wooden hide with a floor then I will wear my Merrell’s but if it is some sort of “tent” hide like a pop up or chair hide and the floor is the ground then I will wear my snow boots. I bought these boots, made by Sorel, last year and have worn them a couple of times and my feet have not got cold. They look and feel a bit big and clumsy but they keep my feet warm and that’s all that matters.
There are several socks I wear from Thorlo padded running socks in the summer through Gore-tex Fat Face socks in the cooler months to merino socks in the winter.
Our bodies are amazing and can regulate the temperature on their own. Before we had clothes our bodies grew hair to keep warm and if it got too hot then it would sweat to cool it down. For years we have been wearing cotton next to our skin. This fabric does not let the body do what it can, in other words it does not let it breath, in fact it could stifle it and you could overheat. It will soak up your sweat but then it will keep it, and not take it away from your body, so when you cool down the moisture (sweat) in the cotton will make you feel cold. Once cotton is wet with sweat it will take ages to dry and it also retains the smell. Years ago a lot of the fabrics they invented were quick drying but still kept the smell. Nowadays they impregnate the fabric with silver and other metals that inhibit bacterial growth in the fabric so there is no smell. To help the body regulate itself you want to wear several thin layers. The reason for several thin layers is so that if you are walking then you should take some clothes off and only put them back on when you are still. Therefore you want to wear fabrics that are breathable, will wick sweat away from your body to the outside so that it will evaporate and light in weight so this rules out cotton only fabrics and thick woolly jumpers. Woolly jumpers are warm but can be heavy. This is not only for the item next to your skin but all the items you wear. This is not just great for when you are wearing the clothes to take photographs but also if you are traveling around abroad with your gear on say a photographic holiday. You will notice that your backpack or suitcases are a lot lighter. Great if you are going by air and paying for your luggage. There are several good makes on the market and my only advice to you is that you should read up about the items you want and look for items that are in a sale. There are bargains to be had and because you need dull colours for wildlife photography these tend to be in sales more often than the brighter colours. The minimum you should wear or take with you is three layers, a base layer a mid layer and an outer layer. I stick to this in the warmer months but increase it to four, five or more layers in the colder months or depending what I am doing, walking or sitting in the open or in a hide.
For my legs I usually wear trousers that are light, quick drying and have a bit of stretch in them if I am walking around. This rules out jeans because when they get wet by the “odd” shower they stay wet all day. These trousers are made by Craighoppers (https://www.craghoppers.com/nosilife-cargo-trousers-dark-khaki/ ) or Regatta (https://www.regatta.com/trj330-800-action-trousers-black/ ). I am quite hot blooded and am warm on quite cold days. When these trousers get wet they do tend to dry quite quickly due to the heat my legs produce. The only downside I have found is that the knee area fades in less than a year but then again I do a lot of crawling when I’m out in the field photographing wildlife. In the colder months I will wear my trousers made by STEALTH GEAR. I believe this firm has stopped trading which is a shame as they are really good trousers but only to be worn on a cold day. I will also take waterproof leggings just in case it rains, or more likely, that I will be crawling around in the vegetation. If I am in a hide then I will wear trousers and a pair of “long johns”. Before I go on these “long johns” are not the old, western type, itchy with the trap door at the rear. They are breathable and made with merino wool. Along with these items I will also take a pair of leggings just in case.
For my torso I start off with a cool-max t-shirt, then a Paramo Cambia shirt (http://www.paramo-clothing.com/en-gb/explore-range/product/?pk=FBFCCCC9-C324-4BDE-B187-0A97077359BE ) and then an outer fleece for the warmer months. I find any cool-max t-shirt works well. The Cambia shirt made by Paramo is very light and works well as a mid-layer this time of year. The outer fleece is made by Regatta. I have one with a full zip and another with a half zip for when it’s slightly cooler. For the cooler months I will wear a second, thinner, fleece and a breathable windproof, waterproof jacket. I sometimes swap the outer fleece with another shirt made by Paramo using a fabric called “parameta S” which is reversible. It has a fleece on one side, if it’s cold, and a shiny side on the other if it’s warm. It is slightly better than a normal fleece because it is wind proof. I’m afraid I could not find this item on the Paramo website so maybe they have stopped making it. I will also swap the cool-max t-shirt with a long sleeve cool-max shirt. When I am in a hide I will swap the Paramo shirt for a shirt made by Arktis called the Mammouth (http://www.arktisoutdoor.co.uk/arktis-mens-clothing/arktis-tops-and-shirts/a210-mammoth-pullover-shirt ). Although they call it a shirt there is no way you can tuck it into your trousers as it is so thick, but it is warm and very comfortable. The clothing is made for the Police and the Army and if it is good enough for them it is good enough for me. I have several jackets from a light Paramo Cascada (https://www.paramo-clothing.com/en-gb/explore-range/product/?pk=BB6B1BF0-8A46-4F00-AAB5-62AA82BC1DB8&attributes=5A01410B-7BF6-46CC-8A97-FFEA0A577F6E,82122064-D94F-4D04-808A-437AFF01F28A ) through one that is reversible with Deer Tex, brown one side and camo the other, made by Deerhunter (http://www.deerhunterclothing.co.uk/ ). To my latest jacket which is just for wearing in a hide. It is called a Montanna 5-in-1 and is again made by Deerhunter. You’ll have noticed that I have mentioned Paramo clothing a lot. I find this make of clothing very good. It is light, warm and the jacket, with lots of pockets, is very waterproof and if it does get wet then it tends to dry really quickly. The only downside is that you have got to be careful where you go with it because it pulls or tears quite easily which is no good for a wildlife photographer near gorse or blackthorn. The reversible coat does not have a hood which is a shame as it means I have to think about a hat, or my face & neck cover (more later on), but it is good on cold dry days. The Montanna is far too big for me to walk around in as it has three layers to it, all of which can be swapped around, but is perfect for when I’m sitting still. It is warm and very comfortable, with lots of pockets. The sad thing is that they appear to have stopped making it; maybe that’s why I got it cheap! All my jackets are noiseless when I’m moving around; the Deerhunter jackets are made of micro suede and the Paramo is Analogy fabric.
On my hands I wear a pair of light, see through camouflaged gloves. I bought these gloves on holiday in America. They do not have removable finger tips but are so thin that I can still feel every button and dial on my camera. I wear these mainly to cover up my white skin. They are similar to these made by Deerhunter (http://www.deerhunterclothing.co.uk/Deerhunter-Hats-Gloves?product_id=735&limit=100 ). In winter I sometimes wear a thin black pair of Polartec Cyclone gloves made by Lowe alpine (https://www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/p/lowe-alpine-cyclone-glove-A3214595.html?colour=124&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIo7mc6Niz1gIVloeyCh2iZA2pEAQYAyABEgL7T_D_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds ) I say sometimes because I have very warm hands and I still usually only wear my light see through camouflaged gloves.
Around my neck I don’t usually wear anything unless I am in a hide and then I wear a fleece neck cover which I was given free at the Birdfair a few years ago. I know what you are thinking – I cover my white hands but not my neck and face! Well I do because when I bought my gloves in America I also bought a camouflaged face and neck cover. You can get a similar one here (https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=camouflaged+face+cover&tbm=isch&imgil=oZolHzyr2yRiCM%253A%253BwaOERvXZ46FSnM%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.amazon.com%25252FMossy-Oak-Full-Spandex-Face%25252Fdp%25252FB003UKVFUG&source=iu&pf=m&fir=oZolHzyr2yRiCM%253A%252CwaOERvXZ46FSnM%252C_&usg=__9gKiKtcdPUeMBztVQiRBo4lyiUk%3D&biw=1680&bih=881&ved=0ahUKEwjV29jt4LPWAhVMiRoKHXYvDIkQyjcIkgI&ei=7V3CWZWxEsySavbesMgI#imgrc=_&spf=1505910261426 ) Once again I might look odd but it covers the white bits and trust me there is a big white bit on my head!!! Bring back the old days when we had hair! Well ok “I” had hair.
On my head I will either wear a baseball hat if it is sunny or a beani made out of fleece or merino wool. If it starts raining then I use the hood on my jacket. When sitting in a “tent” type hide in the winter then I will wear a “Russian” style hat that can fold down on the ears. It is called a “tundra hat” and is made by Jack Pyke (http://www.jackpyke.co.uk/products/clothing/hats-and-gloves/tundra-hat.aspx ) Once again I might look silly, my wife thinks so, but I’m warm and that’s the main thing.
The colour of all my clothing is either dark or light green, dark or light brown, black, grey or a camouflaged pattern. All colours that help me blend into the countryside.
It is a lot of clothing but you need different clothing for different seasons and weather conditions also if you notice I wear a few light things when I am moving about and a lot more when I am sat still in a hide. Remember what I said earlier if you are not warm and comfortable, in other words if you are preoccupied by being cold, then you will lose interest quickly, possibly rush things which does not help your creativity, and not put your best effort into getting the shot or, you will pack up early and possibly miss a great shot.
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