I'm delighted to introduce new Nature's Home uncovered blogger, Tom Mason. Tom featured in one of our "One in a Million interviews" in Birds magazine a couple of years ago based on his volunteering work at RSPB Rye Meads. We met at Birdfair this year for a chat about all things wild and Tom's passion for wildlife. Tom is one of the best photographers around (all the images below are taken by him), so I hope you enjoy seeing his work and pick up some expert tips about photographing wildlife. Hopefully you'll be inspired enough to send in your pictures to Nature's Home - who knows, you might make our Reader Photos page. Here's Tom:
Having just had my birthday (reaching the ripe old age of 21), I more excited than ever about the future. September is always a special time for myself, as the start of a new year in my life also comes with the start of my favourite season. Autumn.
With a new year kicking off, I’m thrilled to be joining the RSPB blog team, hoping to bring you articles that will both help and inspire you to capture the seasons photographically. Over the next year, each month I will be providing you with some ideas, locations and photographic tips to get you out enjoying nature with a camera in your hand!
So to kick off my new blog let’s tackle a big hitter of British wildlife, red deer.
Autumn plays host to the Rut and there really is no better time to photograph these majestic creatures, a real figurehead mammal of the British countryside. Our biggest land mammal, male stags can grow up to 137cm tall (to the shoulder) and weigh in at up to 190kg. Natively present from the highlands to East Anglia, they are also present in many Royal Deer Parks too.
Where to go
Finding red deer can be difficult, especially if you head after the truly wild animals in the Highlands or Northumbria. However by researching and heading to more noted locations where the deer are more used to people, your chances of both getting close and creating images, are vastly improved. Some great locations to try include, RSPB Minsmere, Bradgate Park Leicestershire, Richmond and Bushy Park London and the New Forest, where deer are generally quite easily located.
Approaching Deer Deer are wild animals, even in the parks. They are also large and can potentially be dangerous if you try to get too close, are caught between rivalling stags or a male and his hinds. Be cautious, take your time. Evaluate the scene, look for the dominant male and asses a route for approach. Move directly towards your subject, using trees and ground for cover, stopping regularly to asses your subjects response. If they seem startled at all, wait or move away. An image is never worth your subjects distress.
A long lens of 300mm or above will help you to isolate your subject without having to get too close, whilst a wider angle will be useful for displaying your subjects in the habitat. For great results, get low in ferns to produce out of focus browns and greens, looking for stags sticking their heads up with bracken crowns aloft. Misty morning also produce stunning images, with the low sun producing impressive golden tones to compliment an autumnal colour pallet.
To be in with the best chance of great images, keep heading back to the same locations. Learn about your subjects and how they move, as this will help you to position yourself ahead of the action. So get out there, enjoy the Rut, stay safe and take some gorgeous images!
I would love to hear how you get on out in the field, so why not Tweet me @TomMasonPhoto ? To see more of my work you can always visit my website at www.tommasonphoto.com
I'm lucky to work with a lot of the best photographers as Editor-in-Chief of one of the world's most-read nature magazines, but it's always great to come across some new talent.
Up and coming photographers Ed Marshall and James Shooter have blogged here before when volunteering on Nature's Home - you may have received a response form one of them yourself in you wrote to or e-mailed the magazine. I'm excited to also announce another guest blogger and brilliant photographer, Tom Mason will be providing photography tips and commenting on some of the photographs you'll be seeing in Nature's Home.
El vino did flowYesterday evening, I attended the British Wildlife Photography Awards ceremony at The Mall Galleries in London. I have judged the competition for the last four years and I am so proud to be involved in a competition that goes from strength to strength each year. It was an incredibly difficult judging process this year and I was delighted that our overall winner was of urban wildlife, showing that you don’t have to go far to find and photograph wildlife.
Yours truly was also quoted in the national press, which was a great honour, and also led to lots of radio appearances in the last couple of days, talking about the competition, the winners and what makes a great wildlife shot.
I was delighted to see that one of Ed’s shots was highly commended in the competition but also that a very good friend of mine Ben Andrew had also received a highly commended for his shot of two great crested grebe chicks on the back of a parent, taken at York University at RSPB Members’ Weekend in April this year. He was justifiably in celebratory mood (just the six glasses of champagne for him last night) and the superb catering provided by organiser Maggie Gowan and her team meant that I can't recall many moments when Ben was without a sausage in hand!
Ben and I will be teaming up for some dormouse action next month (hazel and edible varieties) and I am very excited as both would be new species for me. I'll be blogging about that soon after the event.
SpidermenThe other lunchtime, I took Ben to see a wasp spider I had discovered on the Old Heath here at RSPB HQ. This species is spreading northwards and turned up at my local nature reserve at Paxton Pits in Cambridgeshire for the first time this year, enabling me to get some snaps. Ben didn’t let me down on the photography front – take a look at these great shots. It’s handy having a friend who is a top photographer – free photos for the blog! You'll see more of Ben's shots in October Nature's Home, plus some winter wildlife photography tips.
Well done to all the BWPA winners - and thank you for giving me such an enjoyable job! Take a look at them all in the gallery here.
Don't forget to keep all your photos coming in to me at Nature's Home - and let me know what you think about the winners of BWPA . I hope you'll be inspired to get out this autumn with your camera
This week, I’m delighted to be able to bring you a guest blog from Butterfly Conservation’s Survey Manager, Richard Fox. I know that many Nature’s Home readers have enjoyed Patrick Barkham’s feature on butterflies in the current issue – thanks for all your brilliant photos so far. Please keep them coming.
Are there peacocks in your garden? I don’t mean the huge, strutting ornamental birds that roam the grounds of stately homes, but the real, eyed beauty of our islands, the peacock butterfly.
Although a widespread and familiar sight, the fortunes of the peacock butterfly have waxed and waned over the years. Over the long-term, it is one of the minority of UK butterflies that has done fairly well, spreading northward, in response to climate change, to colonise much of northern Scotland. However, in recent years, peacock numbers have been disappointing, falling below the long-term average in eight of the 10 years up to 2012.
Peacock close up by Peter Eeles
But, last year may have marked a turning point. Peacock numbers soared in the summer heatwave of 2013, resulting in some of the biggest counts on record. The butterfly was the third most abundant species recorded in last year’s Big Butterfly Count, the highest placing it has ever achieved and an increase of over 30 times the number seen during the 2012 Count!
What will this year’s Big Butterfly Count, which runs from Saturday 19th July to Sunday 10th August, show for the beloved peacock? The signs are promising. Not only did the butterfly do well in 2013, but the numbers emerging from hibernating earlier this year were impressive. What’s more, velvet-black peacock caterpillars, the offspring of these hardy, overwintering insects, have been much in evidence on nettle beds across the UK in recent weeks.
All this bodes well for a massive emergence of new Peacock butterflies right now, just in time for the Big Butterfly Count. And other butterflies may do well too, benefiting from the (relatively) good summer last year and mild conditions so far in 2014. I’d also tip the small tortoiseshell and brimstone to be among the winners this summer.
We’ll only know how butterflies are faring this year, of course, if you go out and take part in the Big Butterfly Count. It’s quick, easy and fun to do and all the information gained is used to help conserve butterflies. Just spend 15 minutes counting butterflies in any sunny place and submit your sightings via www.bigbutterflycount.org or the free Big Butterfly Count smartphone app.