Northern headaches

What a week. Having planned to shoot at what I thought to be fail-safe locations across the north of England over the course of a week, grim weather and elusive animals contributed to a paltry return of exactly sixty photographs. I saw almost everything that I hoped to photograph, although mostly through a veil of drizzle and at a distance even the best telephoto lenses would struggle to reach.

Lancashire’s Red squirrels were the first to elude my shutter finger and I had to admit defeat and retire to the shelter of a cafe for the afternoon for some emails and editing. I didn’t think peregrine falcons would give me as much of a run around the next day, especially knowing that Yorkshire’s Malham pair would still have their now airbourne chicks hanging around. As I made my way up to the cove I saw one of the parents make a mid-air manoeuvre to pass food to the chicks, after which all three promptly disappeared off into the distance. After five cold hours of sitting and hoping in gradually lessening light and worsening weather, I again had to begrudgingly admit defeat.

The weather never improved enough for me to justify going after in-flight peregrine shots again and so I concentrated the rest of my time in the Vale of York seeking out adders and the threatened water vole. Having searched heathland for some hours I was thrilled to find a male adder basking in the sun. The problem is, by the time I found him he had obviously warmed sufficiently to be able to slink off into thick gorse. Still, it’s only the second time I’ve ever managed to get any shots of this beautiful and declining species.

Photographing the usually delightful and previously obliging water vole proved as irritating as listening to a tape-loop of the Beatles’ Revolution 9. A local researcher friend assured me that she had heard the distinctive ‘plop’ of vole into water and seen them out foraging along the river in the weeks previously. It’s hard to tell how hard the harsh winter hit these small mammals but based on my luckless daily quests to find and photograph them, I’d say pretty hard. After a few days of sitting camouflaged in the undergrowth seeing nothing but nettles and smelling nothing but himalayan balsam, I decided enough was enough and headed home content in the thought that a week in some of the UK’s best countryside in the company of some of its rarest animals qualifies as a good week for some. And hey, if everything was tethered or caged to make it easier for photographers then I’d fall out of love with my job rather quickly. Yes, as a career it has to be viable but the unpredictability, the challenge and the chase make it worth every slow, cold, sodden, nettle-stung hour on a riverbank.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

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