Sometimes when out photographingperegrines falcons on the clifftops I see military training exorcises over the sea. With few people around they often fly close to the clifftop meaning you get a better view than if you were at an airshow.
Several months ago I received an email informing me that I was to be awarded a highly commended in the GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the year. Last Friday the results were finally announced so I traveled to Lünen in Germany to attend the awards.
Every time you enter a major competition like this you never know what effect your images will have on the judges. This year my Crested Guan from Costa Rica seemed to have worked in provoking a reaction. They even liked it enough to print it on the front cover of the book!!
I have always admired the GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year as the winning selection are generally more artistic/creative than many of the other big wildlife photography competitions to which I find a refreshing change.
It was a great weekend and I met some fantastic people who I hope to see again in the future.
This strange pom-pom like growth, which forms on the branches of wild rose, is actually the work of a tiny wasp (Dipoloepis rosae). The ‘gall’ contains multiple chambers where the larvae of the wasp will develope before emerging the following spring. The gall provides a perfect home for the tiny wasp larvae during the winter months.
Last week I was in Arne, Dorset to photograph these amazing spiders. I always liked how they varied some much in size and colour. I photographed them using my field studio at the side of the pond where they can be found.
Despite the reputation that arachnids have acquired over the years, they are still worthy of a moment of your time should you come across one. At this time of year the long grass that grows in the meadows and fields around the UK provides the perfect habitat for many species of spider.
Some of you may have already seen small clusters of grass tightly bound by a web of sorts. The chances are it will have been the work of the nursery web spider Pisaura mirabilis.
This species of spider will create a dome-like cover over an egg sac in order to keep it safe until the spiderlings hatch and eventually leave the nest. You can often guarantee that a female will be close by and in some cases will be resting on the side of the web. The guarding spider can be spooked easily and may quickly hide if disturbed. So, moving quiet will increase your chances of seeing her.
A female nursery web spider carrying an egg sac
A profile image of the nursery web spider
Another spider that can be seen at this time of
year is the Labyrinth
spider Agelena labyrinthica. This
spider can be identified by the large web carpet that it creates amongst the
grass. The web carpet acts as a large catchment area for the spider’s prey.
While the spider waits for an unsuspecting insect to cross its web, it will lie
and wait in a silk tunnel at the rear of the web. It will then quickly run out
and grab its victim before retreating to the confines of it’s silk tunnel to
feast on its prey.
My interest with spiders came about when I started photographing in the fields near home. It made me realize how many varieties there are and how they all catch their prey in different ways. Each one has a set of features that enables it to survive in different habitats. I would like to share some of my findings close to home.
The beauty of nature is that it can be found almost anywhere. A great place to start is on the side of your own home. Where there are insects you will find spiders. The sun-warmed surfaces of a building provide a great habitat for the insects attracted to the warmth.
This jumping spider was found, resting in a hollow in the wall, consuming an aphid.
A nursery web spider basking in the warmth of the sun-covered brick.
Commonly know as a jumping
spider (Salticus scenicus), this type
of spider has exceptionally good eyesight. It will stalk it’s prey to the point
where it can eventually leap onto it.
This jumping spider had caught a fly. You can see the large front facing eyes which give this spider the added advantage for hunting its prey. Fully grown, this spider only reaches a size 5-7mm.
Small holes and cavities provide shelter for
these small spiders. So, old buildings can be especially good for spotting
lace weaver spiders can be found in abundance on buildings. The best time to
see this species is at night. Go out with a torch and see if you can find some.
Their eyes twinkle as the light passes over them.
Finding some spiders in long grass can be
difficult if they don’t have a visible web. If you know what to look for then
you can increase your chances of success. Small balls of grass such as this one
In this image you can see how difficult it is to notice the spider holding onto the grass in the lower left part of the image.
The spider fastens together multiple pieces of grass and seeds with its silk. This creates a shelter which the spider can blend into. From above, the spider is not visible to predators, so the best way to view this spider is from underneath, where it spends most of its time.
One of the best finds I’ve come across was
whilst walking in my local area – it was garden spiders, Araneidae diadematus, in their juvenile state. The very simple web
held two pieces of grass together in an arch form to make a sturdy support for
the spiderlings. The ball formation you see in the one picture is referred to
as a nursery cluster. The slightest disturbance and the cluster will break
apart as the spiderlings disperse rapidly.
I noticed this house spider had made its home in
one of the holes on the railway bridge at Sandwell Valley.
Sometimes you will come across interesting things when you least expect it. This is a green crab spider that I found on the side of my car. It’s the first of the species that I had seen. Luckily I had my camera phone to document it. The green crab spider is one the most vibrant spiders. It’s thin translucent body allows it to glow in the harsh sunlight, emphasising its amazing colouration.
Earlier this year I visited florida again. It is starting to feel like a second home despite being there for only two week out of a year. I came across some amazing people both local and foreign. It really makes the difference to a trip when you can meet such friendly people especially with a common interest.
Photographic oppertunities were few and far between at times, which pushed me to visit new places. Some of which I will be sure to visit again.
Here are a few favourites from my trip, I hope you like them too.
The wood mouse is one most common rodents found here in the UK. This one in particular lives under the stone slabs outside our kitchen. Every day I watch as they harvest up the spilt bird seed from the feeder that hangs above. Where there is food you will most likely find mice, or at least evidence of their nocturnal activities. In our conservatory there isn’t a seed packet that hasn’t been opened or bulbs that haven’t been nibbled.
From a photographic point of view, they are one of the hardest subjects to photograph using my field studio, due to their athletic ability and lighting fast reactions. So getting these shots was rewarding and a welcomed change of subject.
‘Naturally Simple’ is an ongoing project which I hope to expand on over the coming months. The images are free from manipulation and are photographed in naturally simple situations, whilst utilising strong backlighting to create abstract designs.
There is always something satisfying about seeing lines, whether it be implied lines or geometric lines. No matter where your go they are always there but vary dramatically in form.
I visited London for a couple of days and was taken back by the amount of photographic opportunities. It was one of the few times where I could photograph in bright sunlight an not mind about the harsh shadows created by the buildings. In a lot of cases it helped to enhance the strong architectural designs.
Overall, it was just nice to be able to go out with a camera body and a couple of lenses and just enjoy.
National trust properties can provide a wealth of photographic opportunities with their immaculately kept houses and gardens. Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire is one I have visited many times over my lifetime as the gardens provide many seasonal highlights. Its worth visiting at different times of the year, to capture the changing moods of the properties.
These images are of some friends horses. I haven’t spent much time photographing horses so it was nice to try something new.
As the winter months close in, the wildlife in my garden is becoming more scarce, however the vole population is booming as always.
I still continue to document the same creatures such as the common frog, I find that they vary so much in size and colouration, making each one different from the last.
This southern hawker was a visitor to the newly built pond and also became the first of its species to appear on my field studio.
Southern hawker - Aeshna cyanea
Smooth newt - Lissotriton vulgaris
Bank vole (juvenile) - Clethrionomys glareolus
Common frog - Rana temporaria
The results have just been announced for 2014 British Wildlife Photography Awards. I was fortunate to receive a Highly Commended for my image of a raft spider.
Category: Hidden Britain
Title: Guardian in the Grass
Canon 1DX | 24mm | 1/100sec | f11| Off-camera flash
Since starting the study of my garden I have wanted to photograph a shrew with my field studio. Unlike the other mammals in my garden the common shrew is very elusive. I was once fortunate to come across a nest containing a litter of common shrews, but these types of situations are best left undisturbed.
I found this shrew (pictured below) under one the boards that I placed down in the paddock. The image does not show size but I can tell you it was only around 5cm long (body only), so very small.
Its long pointed nose and tiny eyes makes the shrew stand out from other mammals such as voles and mice. Their short life-span means that it is uncommon for them to live for more than 12 months. Their diet consists of mainly insects but they will also eat slugs, snails and earthworms.
The common shrew can be found widespread throughout Britain and comes in at second place in being the most numerous Mammal in Britain.
Common shrew - Sorex araneus
Its amazing how much wildlife you can encourage into your garden just by letting it grow naturally. Up until a few years ago we used to mow this paddock several times a year. Today many would see it as field of weeds but to me its a wildlife haven. I included the barn in the image below, as it is also an important part of the habitat. Lots of insects and spiders benefit from the red brick walls that warm up in the sun throughout the day. Some of my best findings have been discovered around the edge of the building making it an important area of my study.
The area of study: Paddock
Various species of arachnids living in the paddock
In order to encourage particular wildlife, I laid down six chip board panels amongst the grass. The panels provide a whole host of wildlife with shelter and in some cases a home. The boards warm up nicely in the sun which the snakes particularly benefit from.
A litter of bank voles in a nest under one of the panels
Within a week of putting down the panels, I had mice, voles, shrews and grass snakes living underneath them. Over the course of the summer I have lost count of the number of nesting voles that I have encountered under the boards.
The population of bank voles in the paddock is booming. Everywhere I look I find new nests. If you just sit and listen your can hear squeaking and rustling coming from within the long grass.
Amazingly, bank voles become sexually mature at just five weeks old. Female bank voles can produce up to four or five litters a year which explains the numbers found within my paddock.
I have been documenting the bank voles with the aid of my field studio to create ‘Meet Your Neighbours’ style images.
To be continued…
I have finally managed to complete the life cycle of a frog. Over the last couple of years I have missed certain parts of the cycle, but this year, after watching the tadpole stages closely, it has allowed me to document them as they turn into frogs. They whole process is truly remarkable and it is still as interesting now as it was when I was a child.
I have been trying to photography the tadpoles in different ways to make the most of them before they complete their cycle. The photographic process has been very time consuming but very rewarding.
High resolution images can be viewed with the following link:-
With confirmation from WPOTY (Wildlife Photographer of the Year) that I have been unsuccessful with this years competition, I thought I would share my shortlisted entries. To my surprise, eight out of my twenty submitted images were selected for the final round of judging. Thinking this has to be too good to be true (which it was) I thought nothing of it. Lets face it, a dead fish or a slow-worm on a rock is hardly going to take rank up against flying penguins or fighting tigers (to name a few) but you never know.
In the words of Liam Marsh “If it was easy to win, it wouldn’t be worth entering!”
Anyway, here are my shortlisted entries.
Amphibians and Reptiles
Black and White
Amphibians and Reptiles
World in Our Hands
Black and White
Black and White
Black and White
Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus
Snipe Fly Rhagia scolopacea
Crab spider Philodromus sp
Running crab spider Philodromus dispar
Common frog Rana temporaria
High resolution images can be viewed with the following link:-
Most wildlife will disappear or distance themselves from a potential threat, such as people getting too close for comfort. Depending on the situation, fear is surpassed by some animals and they become oblivious to what is going on around them. I have seen two robins having a scrap outside a cafe in the street - they just seem to be lost in their own little world and unaware that they risk getting trodden on by morning commuters. A sparrowhawk can be so engrossed with its prey that it doesn’t notice approaching people as a threat. This type of behaviour is mostly likely to arise as a result of food, rival males or defending territories.
These two willets were fighting in the surf on Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Despite people playing in the water and others walking by along the beach, they continued to fight. After several minutes, the fight was over and the birds went their separate ways.
Nothing like a bit of free entertainment whilst on the beach.