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A catch up of recent weeks

So, what’s been going on over the last couple of weeks for me? Mainly, I’ve been eluded by Short Eared Owls at every opportunity, had a great day in the Chilterns with some friends photographing the red kites, oh and taken the most expensive blue tit image ever!

I’ve had a lot going on recently, between other work commitments and trying to replace my bathroom and kitchen as I prepare my house for sale with the aim of moving in the spring, I’ve been struggling to get the camera out of the bag. A couple of weekends ago though I spent a great day out in the Chilterns photographing the red kites. I was joined by my friends and fellow wildlife photographers Rene, his buddy Hans (my partners in crime for this years earlier Yellowstone trip) and Luke and Jai. I’ve spent many many hours in the Chilterns so when the thick (and not forecast!) fog rolled in for first light and the wind and rain picked up, I opted to keep the camera in the bag and just observe whilst some of the others, who hadn’t been there as much, or at all, tried to get what images they could. It really was quite dire conditions and I was a little concerned for Hans as he was over for the weekend on a trip from his home in Holland. We opted for an early and leisurely pub lunch before heading back out to brave the conditions for the afternoon. And, as luck would have it, the afternoon brought with it a complete change in the weather with some beautiful clear skies and lovely autumnal afternoon shades of gold lighting up the kites. I’ve taken many images of kites, and so I was quite conservative with how often I pressed the shutter button, but I always like to try and get the backs of these birds on camera where I can, as they have beautiful coloured feathers, and it makes a change from seeing the underside of the wing, so I was quite pleased to capture this kite as it performed a mid-air twist before diving at the ground.

A red kite twists mid-air as it prepared to dive at the ground in the Chilterns

Nikon D3s, 600 VR, 1/640, f5, ISO 200

As the afternoon drew on the clouds began to gather on the horizon and with Rene and Hans heading home, Luke, Jai and myself stayed till the bitter end, which paid off as we were able to grab a couple of nice silhouettes as the clouds changed colour with the setting sun. A nice end to the day, especially given the horrendous conditions we faced earlier in the morning with strong winds, rain and fog!

Nikon D3s, 600 VR, 1/800, f4, ISO 800

It seems though, that the species that is determined to elude me this year is the Short Eared Owl! So far I’ve paid several visits to a couple of locations which I’ve seen some great images being posted from. With Luke showing me his local owls, which did at least result in one image! But it seems either the owls are not fans of Nikon camera gear or photographers in their thirties with greying hair, as so far, apart from this one image of an owl going in for the kill they have either not put in an appearance at all or done so very briefly and always too far away or when the light has gone. In fact, just yesterday, I did a 160 mile round trip with my buddy David to a spot that has seen over twenty owls in recent weeks, and again, as we drove further up the country the wind picked up and again they were nowhere to be seen. One local photographer I got chatting to said ‘there’s usually at least two up by this time of day, it’s very unusual not to see them‘. Not for me my friend! lol.

A short eared owl twists and dives for the ground to catch it's prey

Nikon D3s, 600 VR, 1/400, f4, ISO 2500

I’ll not be beaten though, and will continue to put in time over the next couple of months as I’m determined to get these beautiful birds within the frame of my camera this winter!

THE MOST EXPENSIVE BLUE TIT IMAGE EVER

Well, truth be told, it might not be. I’m just calling it that for fun, as it was pretty much the only image I took on an over 400 mile round trip weekend away (again mainly to visit the Short Eared Owls) around the local patch of my good friend and even better photographer Austin Thomas. Jai and I spent a weekend up around the West Coast of the UK near Liverpool with Austin kindly putting us up for a couple of days, but the weather couldn’t really have been worse. We had planned the trip a few weekends before as it was the only time our schedules crossed, so we were always going to be at the mercy of mother nature, and she didn’t play nice! We had strong winds and rain all weekend, which pushed the light levels way down, we even had hail at one point! And that all kept the wildlife hidden as everything sheltered from the conditions. We did put in a valiant effort though, venturing out to Formby to check on the Red Squirrels, plus WWT Martin Mere and of course a good spot for the owls where 7 or 8 have been spotted at once. But at every turn our subjects were nowhere to be seen. The blue tits on Austins feeders provided the only real opportunity on the Sunday morning, where we sat for 45 minutes or so between downpours as we had breakfast before heading out to try and find something a little more ‘exotic’. Light levels again were shocking, with my D3s dropping down to ISO 12800 at f4, 1/80s at one point! But we got a brief moment of lighter sky and that’s when I seized my chance, photographing ‘the most expensive blue tit image ever taken’, at least it was taken from warm shelter with a cup of tea and a plate of toast by my side!

Nikon D3s, 200-400 VR, 1/160, f4.5, ISO 2800

This image did remind me how much I love my 200-400 though! I rarely use it these days but with it’s close focus, it won the day over the 600 VR which has a close focus of 15 feet or so which was way too far for the feeders. If you haven’t read it before, you can read my review of the original 200-400 here.

So, there you have it, not the most productive few weeks. But then wildlife photography is never guaranteed and rather than just post the best images and the best experiences, I feel it’s important to balance those from time to time by telling you about the times it doesn’t go to plan. But here’s the thing, all of these trips have been shared in the great company of the good friends and fellow photographers. There are always great discussions, tip swapping, and laughs whenever I spend time with them. Sure getting the shot is important, but I wouldn’t trade the time I get to spend with these people when I’m trying to get that shot, for anything!

Thank you for the company Gents!

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About the author

Richard Peters is a Surrey based professional wildlife photographer, Nikon Ambassador, and one of the few British photographers to receive the accolade of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is known for a style that often favours dramatic use of light, runs wildlife photography workshops and, from camera clubs to big industry events, holds talks about his work.

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