I'm delighted to welcome back top photographer Tom Mason to the Nature's Home blog for some more expert advice on seasonal photography. Here's Tom (and some rather superb photographs taken by him).
As a wildlife photographer I love March, I’d got as far to say that maybe its even my favourite month. Why? Well for starters, it signals the start of spring, longer days, warmer conditions, but even more importantly, it means I can get out and photograph one of my favourites subjects of all: the brown hare.
Introduced in the iron age, the brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is an unmistakable asset to much of the UK, seen bounding around arable fields and parkland. A different sight entirely to the common rabbit. Brown hares are widespread and can be found on most low-lying ground. In upland areas of the UK and Scotland, the brown hare is replaced by the mountain hare.
The hares’ most notable features are their large powerful hind legs and long black-tipped ears. Their coats are reddish, which, in addition to their significantly larger size, make them easy to distinguish from rabbits at a glance. When disturbed, the animals will flatten themselves low against the ground. If the danger moves closer, they will flee with impressive speed, reaching up to 35mph!
Locating hares in your area is often fairly straightforward. Focus firstly on identifying the correct type of habitat, as this will lead you to an area where hares can be found. Search out an area where arable fields lay adjacent to a small patch of woodland or hedge line, as these often yield good results. One of the most useful tools I have found for searching out new locations is Google Earth. The program lets you take a bird’s-eye view of the planet and is perfect for scanning your local countryside to find possible locations that might be worth checking out.
A few locations that are certainly worth a try around the country include
If you want to get close to brown hares you have three real options. Waiting it out, Stalking or a drive by, each technique can give great results and are all useful in certain situations.
Waiting it out - Get to the location where you have identified hares, settle in on the ground, lying down camera out in front and wait. Often Hares will eventually return to areas that frequently visit and with time and persistence you will be able to get close up shots of your subject. Of course this does mean long waits out in the cold and damp conditions…but you want to be a wildlife photographer don’t you!
A bit of a stalker - As mammals, brown hares can be efficiently stalked out in the field with a little field craft and persistence. After spotting a hare at distance, make sure you are down wind of your subject, get low, often on your hands and knees and move slowly, periodically looking up to check for any signs of disturbance. If there are, stop wait and then slowly proceed. With time and consistency you will eventually get the shots!
Drive by - With hares often in arable fields you can regularly access them from roadsides, Slowly drive round country lanes, when you spot your subject, pull over (safely!) and then use your car as a hide. If the weather isn’t great, it's far nicer to be in a warm car than a bunch of wet clothes!
So with the above ideas in mind, get out this March and spend some time working with brown hares! I would love to hear how you get on out in the field, Tweet me @TomMasonPhoto and to see more of my work you can always visit my website at www.tommasonphoto.com
We're beavering away on the April issue of Nature's Home and we'll be talking about climate change and wildlife in some detail. I've done some moonlighting on the climate blog this week, writing about what I'll miss due to climate change to support The Climate Coalition's "Show the Love" campaign.
There's lots more in April Nature's Home, but until then do take a look at my list - and please add your own. I'd love to see what you'd miss.
It's a beautiful day for photography here at RSPB HQ in Bedfordshire with blue skies and snow everywhere. But I'm going to leave it to our guest blogger and photography expert, Tom Mason, to get you in the mood for getting out and taking some shots as he turns his lens onto grey herons. Here's Tom and a selection of his wonderful shots.
Gorgeous, grey and with longs legs to boot! Grey herons (Ardea cinerea for you Latin fans) are pretty cool characters. Scrap that, they are awesome birds. In the early part of the year they are a welcome treat for the photographer, breeding early, providing us with a fabulous subject to point our lenses at as a perfect pre season warm up, to the much anticipated beginning of spring.
In the UK, grey herons are found in practically every location where you find fresh water. From river banks to wetland reserves, herons will make their home around the country and are often also found in parks or large back gardens. Feeding on fish, small mammals, amphibians and just about anything they can find, they are found all year round with around 13,000 nest recorded annually. With such abundance and widespread availability, there’s no better subject to focus the camera on at this time of year.
What to look for
In February, herons can often be seen starting to search out possible nesting locations. Look out for birds soaring over woodland areas that are close to water, often chasing one another. The birds often perform on old nest platforms, tilt their heads side to side, erecting the crest plumes and calling consistently. It's a marvel to watch. Nest can be solitary or in groups with birds often choosing to take up residence together in heronries that can be found in many locations around the country.
Where to go
With herons found around the UK, heronries are a not a rare site. The large groups of birds congregating together is perfect for photography, increasing the number of available subjects as well as giving a larger view, for the habitat images as well.
With some of the colonies found in urban areas, such as regents park in central London, the birds are usually very accustom to the presence of humans, so don't worry if you don't have a huge or expensive telephoto lens!
A few great locations to try include…
Cleeve Heronry Nature Reserve (Avon Wildlife Trust)
Coed Llwyn Rhyddid (The Wildlife Trust for South & West Wales)
Attenborough Nature Reserve (Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust)
Ellesmere (Shropshire Wildlife Trust)
Regents Park, London
St Albans Park, Hertfordshire
What to photograph?
The herons of course (just messing...)
With the subjects often in abundance making great images can often be more difficult than when you have less to work with. Focus your attention on a few subjects, if one Heron seems to be consistently more active than the rest, work with that individual, rather than randomly switching between multiple birds.
Have a plan for the images your would like to make, do some research and think about the poses and types of shots you would like to capture. A quick list could include, A head shot, a heron feeding, Flying up to a nest platform and then two or three birds together. A simple plan will focus your mind and help you to create better images.
With the heronries in consistent locations remember that you can keep coming back. Persistence will help you create better and better images, by the end of a month when you have made multiple trips, you will be sure to have not only some fantastic images, but also a great understanding about the lives of these wonderful creatures!
I would love to hear how you get on out in the field, Tweet me @TomMasonPhoto and to see more of my work you can always visit my website at www.tommasonphoto.com