Wild in the garden

Our February meeting took place on one of the wildest nights of the winter – and what a great evening it was, too. Our speaker, Alan Price of Gatehouse Studio, came to talk to us about photographing the wildlife in our gardens. He has won and been shortlisted for many awards and showed us an amazing range of 100 images, all taken in his own garden. Inspirational, particularly as he pointed out that you don’t need a big garden to achieve amazing results.

And, since a picture paints a thousand words (but with a few hints and tips)…

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Blue tits in snowdrops. The snowdrops were placed on a bird table with crunched up peanuts at the base of the flowers – crunch the nuts up, and the birds will eat them in situ. For Alan, the key to success is a bird table like this, strategically dressed to tempt wildlife, using a hide (or even the house or shed as a hide), and having infinite reserves of patience. He repeatedly stressed the need to wait for things to happen, and here’s another example of what can result when you do:

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Bank vole and blackberry. There are many voles and mice in Alan’s garden, and this shot was created by carefully placing the blackberries near an entrance hole, and waiting. So careful and considered observation is also a key – know your garden.

Sometimes a little careful help gets the shot.

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This beautiful slow worm (no, it’s not a snake; it’s a slow worm – a legless lizard, essentially) was found in the garden and carefully photographed in a glass bowl before being released.

This tiger moth was also carefully placed in the studio for photography, and then released. It was caught in a moth box put out on a summer evening, something Alan recommends. Moths are stunning – they’re not all ‘little brown jobs’. Not at all!

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Fabulous!

A few more notes: Alan has a background in graphic design (you can tell), and stresses a few things relating to design when taking a photograph: the need to keep it simple, the need to plan – to have a preconceived idea of what you want – and the need for careful set dressing. On a more technical level, he uses a Nikon 7100 with a 300mm prime lens, and works at high speeds. He’ll use a central focus and crop afterwards, and – one last tip – says always focus on the eyes of your subject when photographing wildlife.

Birds of Prey – in the church hall!

One of the many advantages of gardening around here is the sheer variety of bird life – whether that’s being accompanied by robins and jackdaws as we garden, or hearing a high screech and looking up to see a buzzard being mobbed, the anchor shape of a peregrine hurtling down over the hills, or the elegant flight of a red kite.

We are fortunate in having falconers living nearby, and last Monday they came to talk to us – and they also brought along three of their birds: a kestrel, a peregrine and a little owl.

how good is this owl?

Benjie – whose passion for birds of prey started when he was 14, found an injured buzzard and nursed it back to health before releasing it back into the wild – and Mev Williams gave us a most interesting and often amusing talk.

Benjie bought his first bird 32 years ago, when he married Mev, and hasn’t looked back. They currently run Airborne Warriors, a bird and pest control company, and prefer, if at all possible, to work through the medium of falconry. Many of us have heard of birds of prey being used at airports, but Benjie and Mev work on other things too – for instance, landfill sites and power stations – where seagulls and pests can be very destructive or downright dangerous. Their birds are doing what they would normally do, of course.

Benjie took us through the birds of prey we are likely to see around here. His descriptions often made us laugh – describing buzzards as ‘lazy’, for instance – and were often pithy and to the point: saying that the sparrowhawk ‘kills because it can and not because it is hungry’ is a good example. Many of us have experienced exactly that, seeing a sparrowhawk zoom down on an occupied feeder or birdbath…

Finally, did you know that the term ‘fed up’ comes from falconry? It refers to a bird which has a full crop after feeding. Now you know!

Benjie and friend

There are some more photographs – of the birds actually working as opposed to entertaining us – on Airborne Warriors’ website, here. Many thanks to Benjie and Mev, and to the beautiful birds they brought along.