Well, it’s 7 days now since here in Kent (along with most of the UK) we “enjoyed” hard frosts and quite a bit of snow. It’s so infrequent now that when it does occur I (and I’m sure 1000′s of other photographers) rack our brains to think of where to go in order to capitalise on this short lived event.
For the last month, or so, I have set up a bird feeding station quite near to where I live on the North Kent Marshes to see what I could pull in different to the usual woodland species that I have photographed time and again in subsequent years. With regular visits I could see that I wasn’t getting anything particularly interesting coming in aside from tits and greenfinches. So, I decided to go to Knole Park where they have a large herd of fallow and sika deer. With a wonderful hard frost, I enjoyed a good few hours from dawn, milking the conditions for all it’s worth!
This was the first time I used my 200-400 f4 that I acquired a couple of months ago and it really proved it’s worth with me being able to shoot close-ups and contextual, without moving or adding tele-converters.
For all the sika deer photographs, I used a Manfrotto monopod as continually altering the legs on a tripod can be both tiresome and time consuming which may result in missing a shot. For the fallow deer buck image, I hand-held the camera while laying down, utilising the VR.
I was just sitting down, upwind from this sika and it came closer and closer, sniffing the air every few steps.
The day after, heavy snow was forecast for the Sevenoaks area, predicted for around 12 o clock. I wasn’t going to miss this, so arrived at 9 and just waited. The fallow were very shy and with such a strong wind, understandably, took shelter in the wooded areas.
After the above encounter, it was a full hour before I got anywhere near close enough for a decent size image. I came across 4 bucks and by keeping a respectful distance, they took little notice. And, as if on cue, the snow REALLY started to come down. Perfect!
A few days later and with snow still on the ground I headed to my hide on the marshes where I witnessed the most extraordinary thing! As I walked to my hide to top-up the feeder I noticed a fieldfare in a hawthorn, not 4m away! Amazing. They are generally very wary so what on earth was it doing, just sitting there? I stood and watched as it sat and picked off nearby berries. The camera was in the car so I walked back the 100m or so, fitted the camera to the tripod and returned, only to find it was still there! It remained so for the next minute, allowing me take a few shots before it dropped to the ground, picked up a few berries and flew off to join the rest of the flock. I guess, it’s the hard weather that makes wildlife bolder.
I then got comfortable in my hide, observing greenfiches, blue and great tits come and go and then a bird appeared on a thistle seed-head I had only ever seen a few times before and certainly never photographed. A lesser redpoll. I took a few tentative photographs as it fed frantically on the seed-head. It flew to a nearby hawthorn then immediately returned. I let it feed for a while, took another shot and this time it took no notice. This was a rare opportunity to get close-ups of a bird I hardly see, so didn’t hold back in the amount of images Thankfully, quite afew came out sharp!
All images on this post were taken using a Nikon D300, 200-400 f4 and, more often than not, iso 800. For the redpoll shots, at f5.6 I used a shutter speed of 1/1600 sec.
To have any picture published is a great honour for any photographer, particularly these days when there are so many wonderful images available. So, you can imaging how happy I was to see this image of a buck fallow deer greeting a doe appear as a half-page in this month’s BBC Wildlife magazine illustrating the fallow deer rut.
It was taken some years ago, on film, using a Nikon F5 and 500mm f4P Nikkor lens. I remember the situation well and proves a fundamental point about wildlife photography that knowing the habits of your subject is equally, if not more important, that knowing your equipment.
Occasionally, during the rut, doe harems fracture and the odd once goes astray. I noticed this lone doe on the horizon against a sunset sky and knowing (hoping!) that the buck would gently “round her up” with a touching-of-noses greeting, I focused on her, exposed for a silhouette and left sufficient room to allow the buck to enter the frame which, thank goodness, he did!
After spending a couple of days in the Tatras, we headed east (a drive of some 4 hours) to the Bieszczady National Park which lies on the borders of Ukraine and Slovakia. I had often come across this place while reading about the nature of Poland but didn’t really know anything about it and, before now, had you?! It’s not as well known as the Tatras or Capathians but after spending a few days there, I have to say, hand on heart, it was my favourite region of the trip!
A sparsely populated region (5 persons per 475 km sq.), as we drove deeper and deeper into the park buildings were taken over by mountains clad in beech forest. It doesn’t have the open-mouthed “look at that” wonder that you get with the Tatras. It’s highest peak is only 1346m compared to the Polish Tatras 2499 but, what is lacks in majesty, more than makes up in wildness. As you drive past and through these dark woods you get a sense that something could and, indeed does, lurk in there! Bison, brown bear, wolf and lynx all inhabit these woods as indeed do black stork, ural owl, lesser-spotted and golden eagle.
As soon as we arrived we headed out to look at a few possible locations for sunrise/sunset images. There were a couple of viewpoints quite nearby to where we were staying and, with the possibility of a decent sunrise in the morning, our alarm clocks were set for 3.50, or should I say, dead-o-clock! When I’m working like this, I really don’t mind early rises and late finishes. On a trip like this, after a sunrise shoot, you go back to bed for a few hours, back out to do more reconnaissance and, weather permitting, out till late for sunset, and beyond.
That evening we walked (this time with hiking sticks!) up and along a steep rocky path cutting through ancient beechwoods to reach the high mountain pastures or Poloninas.
After shooting this ridge in the evening light, we turned our attention to this “relatively” tame red deer stag. I managed to crawl down through the long grass to shoot this contextual image.
Soon after, I noticed how the sun was rapidly setting and head for the top to get this view. As the sun dipped it just got better and better and, as the colour intensified, my card rapidly filled!
I just couldn’t drag myself away!
We made it back to the car as it got dark, spotting a toad and glow worms along the way. Marek checked the forecast for the following morning. It looked promising, so alarms were once again set. This time, however, rather than getting landscape sunrise shots we decided upon a deer safari en-route to a bridge that gave nice views of the River San. It wasn’t so important to get there at dawn since the surrounding hills and mountains shielded the light up until 30 minutes, or so, post-sunrise. With camera’s on laps, it wasn’t long before Marek spotted this roe deer in a meadow. I had just enough time to fire off a few frames before it bounded into the woodland. A great start!
A few miles further along and, once again, eagle-eyed Marek (he really is good at spotting stuff!) spotted this red deer hind crossing the river. Shortly after getting this image, her fawn followed.
Another hind crossed the road infront of us and, with that, we drove to the bridge where, for the next hour, we busied ourselves capturing the dissipating mist. At 288 miles, the River San is Poland’s 6th longest and for it’s first 35, forms the border between Poland and Ukraine.
Where there isn’t beechwood, there are meadows where the sound of corncrake and warblers fill the air. Bliss!
Later that evening we headed to a very remote area, close to the Ukrainian border to photograph a raised peat bog area called Tarnawa Wyzna. This lesser-spotted eagle perched quite close to the road which we photographed from the car and as we walked nearby, Marek spotted wolf prints.
While driving to the bog, a fox was spotted trotting along the road towards us. We stopped and photographed it as it came closer and closer until it was right next to the car then disappeared into the long grass of a neighbouring meadow. It had us all in fits of laughter. It was so unbelievable!
Protected since 1976 and part of the National Park since 1999, these bogs are on an elevation of approximately 670m. It holds some very interesting plant species including bog bilberry, cowberry, marsh labrador tea and round-leaved sundew. This is a really wild area and I absolutely loved the few hours we spent there. With hardly a soul to be seen and the rasping call of the corncrake the only sound.
The following morning was to be our last in Bieszczady. We had a long drive to Krakow that afternoon where we would spend the night before my departure the following morning. We explored a few places and, as the weather was overcast, it seemed appropriate to seek out waterfalls. The conditions were perfect and so we spent some time shooting this particular one.
In all, it was an amazing trip (albeit too short – I could have stayed for a month!). The incredible heights of the Tatras and remote wild nature of Bieszczady had me in awe of this beautiful country which, I am certain, will have me return time and gain.
Marek and I are currently in the process of designing photo-tours for 2013 to the regions I have mentioned. We are looking at doing a 7 day tour in the autumn of 2013, capturing the amazing autumnal colours of the Carpathians, where we will spend 2 full days in both the Tatras and Bieszczady Mountains and another, shorter one, in the Bieszczady, only, in June. This will be for landscapes and wildlife. Late spring is a marvellous time for photographing deer from a a vehicle, for example, at first light since they will be feeding in roadside meadows and would not have been disturbed by traffic which would be the case in autumn when sunrise is much later. And, as you can see, other possible encounters may include foxes and eagles, too! To register your interest in these you can do so by contacting me at email@example.com or, alternatively, subscribing to my mailing list, HERE, where you will be among the the first to hear about upcoming workshops and tours.
Dr. Marek Kosinski is a professional nature photographer specialising in the flora and fauna of his home country, Poland, who has received awards in both the Wildlife Photographer of the Year and GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions. A trained biologist (PhD in plant ecology), Marek held the position of lecturer and scientist for 12 years at Krakow university. He is co-author of several natural history books and has had more than 10 000 images published. Marek also runs his own photo agency www.kosinscy.pl, is represented by the Polish photo agency, Forum, and is a member of the Polish Union of Nature Photographers. A certified tour guide, for 15 years, Marek has also guided general nature tours for various travel agencies.
I must state, that although he is a Doctor of Biology he is, in no way, “stuffy” that one might assume with having such a title! Yes, he can give you the scientific name for every European plant species but at the same time he is a damn nice fellow with a wicked sense of humour, ensuring you not only leave with fantastic images and bundles of imformation, but you have a fun time taking them, too!
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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