Archive for Peregrine Falcon

Northern headaches

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

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.

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The sea parrots of Skomer

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

I’m just back from a few days on Wales’ Pembrokeshire coast where I’ve been working to plug one of the holes in my UK portfolio. Puffins have always been conspicuous by their absence from my body of usable work so I headed to Skomer, a seabird paradise three miles off the west coast.

On what turned out to be the hottest few days of the year so far across much of the UK, I seemed to have picked the worst time to hit the road as wind and rain threatened to derail my plans and ruin my chances of getting the various shots I was after. Even though the sea mist rolled in, making it hard to track the birds in flight as the camera’s autofocus system struggled in the low light, I guess I can consider myself lucky that I didn’t get rained on and that I even made it onto the island at all. A number of seabird expeditions were cancelled in the days prior to my visit to Skomer due to bad weather and stormy seas.

The island is a national nature reserve managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and is home to nearly half a million seabirds as well as short-eared owls, peregrine falcons and choughs, but it is probably best known for its colony of more than 10,000 puffins. This time of year, the air is full of adult birds flying like bullets from the sea to their burrows with mouthfuls of sandeels to feed their chicks…followed clumsily and aggressively by gulls looking for a free meal.

Between March and August is the best time to see these iconic parrots of the sea as they come ashore to breed in huge colonies. Seeing them in such large numbers in one place like Skomer makes it hard to believe that the puffin is listed as Amber Status in the UK but their numbers have fallen significantly across much of their European range. Terrestrial predators like cats, mink and rats remain a threat to breeding colonies and the species is susceptible to the affects of marine pollution and unsustainable fishing.

Peregrine Falcons

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

I have been photographing this pair of peregrine falcons for the last 4 years but I don’t think I’ve been treated to such an acrobatic flying display in perfect conditions quite like what I enjoyed last week.

Just after I had set myself up in a carefully-chosen position, both birds came back to the nest carrying food. Shortly after, the female took off again carrying the remains of a bird in her huge talons. She climbed higher and higher and then without warning, dropped the food, tucked herself into a stoop and followed it towards the cliffs below.

Now, you’re probably asking why I don’t have better pictures but following the fastest animal in the world with a lens equivalent to a 728mm (400mm plus a 1.4x teleconverter on a 1.3x crop camera body) is just about manageable when soaring but such erratic flight takes a true master and, I must admit, my technique hasn’t been kept up to scratch. Still, it was good practice for my forthcoming trip to Scotland and it has whet my appetite for a return to the site once the chicks have fledged.

Peregrines have become a symbol of conservation success since their recovery from persecution and pesticide poisoning, which peaked in the 1960’s. Their tendency to nest on high-rise buildings in towns and cities across the UK has also helped to engage a large sector of the UK’s urban public by showing that you don’t have to travel into the countryside to find awe-inspiring wildlife.