Last week I returned from Eastern Poland where, along with fellow photographer, Marek Kosinski, I led two back to back tours. The target species was the European bison and Bialowieza (and it’s surrounding meadows and forests) is the only place in Europe where you can see large herds roaming freely. We led a successful tour last year (see HERE for the trip report) and hoped for more of the same on this occasion! Although not as cold and, at the start at least, not as much snow as last year, with Marek’s skill and knowledge of this vast area we were able to enjoy photographing them in a variety of situations and conditions. Undoubtedly, the most memorable for me was in the heavy snow as it transforms the landscape and adds real atmosphere to the images.
As last year, the accommodation and home cooking provided by Viera for both breakfast and evening meal was outstanding! Varied and delicious and washed down with a glass (or 2!) of her herb and fruit infused vodka! It’s worth returning for her cooking alone!
Thank you to all those that attended…James, Marie-Laure and Ian, Mike and Bea, Chris, Anna, Kevin, Patrick and Jim. It was hard work for some, sometimes, but with your enthusiasm and tenacity, I am sure you have returned with some memorable images.
A day was dedicated to entering the Strictly Protected Area (SPA) of the Bialowieza forest which you can only do so with a licensed guide. Although Bialowieza National Park covers an area of about 105 km.sq; much of this is managed with smaller protected areas within. The finest part is the SPA, a truly spectacular forest covering an area of 57 sq.km. An untouched, primeval forest, the largest and finest of it’s kind in lowland Europe. Massive, several hundred year old oaks, maple, hornbeam, ash and spruce stand 40 metres plus as a result of the nutrient rich soil and their need to reach for the light in this crowded environment. A stunningly beautiful, yet eerie, place where no forest management takes place and the only means of transport within the forest is by horse and cart and a, practically, silent buggy used by the rangers. Where trees fall, they remain and among the tangled vegetation and fallen, decaying trees, wolves, lynx, boar and bison roam. Black storks, lesser-spotted eagles and all 10 species of woodpecker exist within this area, not to mention the endless list of flowers, fungi and insects.
Marek has a marvellous garden bird hide where you can photograph a number of species including these, spotted nutcrackers. They are such great characters and would use their massive, powerful bills to open a hazelnut by wedging it into the crack of a tree.
There were occasions when we were unable to locate the bison and with the light casting a warm glow on the forest, we made the most of the situation.
Occasionally, the conditions were quite difficult to work in but were most definitely worth it!
With half the group, (on my 2nd week) Marek went out looking for bison while myself and 2 others were booked into his garden and forest hide for woodpeckers and the like. Marek, however, put a spanner in the works (in the nicest possible way) by saying to us that the white-tailed eagle hide was empty and would we like to try that instead? I was more than a little keen as was (it has to be said, Kevin!) and when I suggested this to Patrick, he also felt it would be worth a go. So, by 5.30 the following morning, we were settled in the hide, waiting. We did see the eagles. 2 infact, perched in the distant trees, plus ravens and jays but, sadly, they never came down to the bait. It was a real pity but nothing ventured. Kevin, with his bionic eyesight, spotted this gorgeous fox in the distance which gave us a few moments to rattle off a few images.
While half the group were enjoying (as we later found out) a bumper session in Marek’s hide, we were out looking for bison which he duly located. And what a herd it was. 60+ animals.
From here, we revisited a forest that had 3 bulls and for the next hour and a half, followed them and, while keeping a very respectful distance, enjoyed them as they relaxed and fed.
My kit bag (Think Tank Airport Acceleration) consisted of 2xNikon D300′s, 12-24, 28-105, 70-200 f2.8 and a 200-400 f4 with, occasionally, a 1.4x tele-converter attached. Support was provided by a Manfrotto 055 CX3 carbon fibre tripod fitted with a Markins M10 ball head. I’m not a big fan of those Manfrotto’s where, in order to use at ground level, you need to adjust the centre column so it runs parallel to the ground. Far too fiddly for my liking, especially when working in the snow!
From the forest, they entered the clearing providing us with wonderful opportunities to photograph them without any trees obscuring them.
Yellowhammers would fly back and forth, feeding at the bison’s feet.
A fantastic end to a great trip. Marek and I will be doing the same tour next February from the 3rd to 8th so, if you are interested in joining me to this amazing region, do get in touch. Alternatively, click HERE to get more information from my website.
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.
This is the first time I have done an end of year round-up and I have to say, I rather enjoyed it. I like to think of myself as a fairly productive photographer but as the months and years roll by, often forget what I have taken in just 12 months.
So, hear they are and I do hope you enjoy my recap and, if you’ve never done something like this before, why not give it a try?! It’s sure to bring nack some wonderful memories and, perhaps, point out those subjects that you need another stab at.
Realising that many of you are photographers and that I often get emails requesting technical data, I have included this in the caption so hope you find this useful. However, as I have said previously, please don’t get too bogged down with gear and shutter speeds. Being out there, whatever the weather and with whatever equipment you own, is the key to witnessing and recording nature in all it’s forms.
I would like to say a big thank you to all of you that have taken the time to read my blog and, or, follow me on facebook. To my workshop and tour guests and, generally, for supporting my work over the last year. I look forward to meeting some of you, again, in 2013 as well as seeing new faces and wish you all a happy and fulfilling New Year.
Should you have time, do let me know in Comments which is your fasvourite!
I’ll be giving a talk at Folkiestone Camera Club tomorrow (26th) illustrated with my most recent images taken over the last year with bison and the northern lights making an appearance! I have spoken, many times, to this group over the years and I always enjoy returning as they are such a friendly and enthusiastic group. All are welcome as you do not need to be a member to attend.
I now offer gift vouchers for my wildlife and landscape photography workshops.
Vouchers can be produced, to order, of any denomination from £10 upwards and can even be workshop or overseas tour specific. If you would rather the recipient didn’t know how much you spent, I can simply leave off the cost and, if the holder decides they would rather go on a different workshop or tour, no problem, the voucher can be redeemed against one of his or her choice!
For more information, please see HERE.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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