Belton International Horse Trials 2014   Leave a comment

It was my pleasure to be at Belton International Horse Trials last Sunday. Sunday afternoon particularly was blessed with fine weather and there was an action packed programme of equestrian action and all kinds of family entertainment. Apparently the attendance numbers were up every day, doubling on Saturday.

It was an impressive line up of competitors with most of the world’s top riders with at least one horse in the competition and these included world number one Andrew Nicholson, William Fox-Pitt, Mary King, Mark Todd, Izzy Taylor and Pippa Funnell.  The winner of the event’s most prestigious class, the CIC 4 Star was Sir Mark Todd with Leonidas II.

I was being a little lazy on Sunday and camped out by the water jump (always fun) for most of the day. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

izzy taylor

Izzy Taylor

1L0A0013_0600

The water jump where I spent most of Sunday.

Dog Saluki-doodle

Saluki-doodle dog. Not a horse.

Poppet

A total poppet, more interested in twirling the string on the barrier line than watching the horsies.

Mary King 01

Mary King pulling a typical Mary King face.

Refusal

What happens when you and your horse have different ideas about jumping a fence.

1L0A0271_0697

Pippa Funnell demonstrates how it should be done.

Trailer

An Empire trailer that’s costs twice as much as the house I live in.

 

Model Mayhem fails to bring the mayhem!   Leave a comment

There is a website that you may or may not have heard of. It’s called Model Mayhem. Fundamentally it’s a place to network and hire or trade with photographer’s, models, make-up artist, stylists and retouchers.  It’s a pretty cool place, and I’ve enjoyed being a part of that community for the past 3 or 4 years.

However, one of the things that makes it so great is that it is open to anybody at any level of expertise and professionalism, but this is also the very thing that can leave you pulling your hair out!  Let me explain; Model Mayhem allows you to search for other ‘artists’ in a chosen field to collaborate with. You can narrow this search down by region and modify it with a ‘search radius in miles’. This enables you to find people close to you to work with. This networking can take up a lot of time and effort and sometimes for some people making good on commitments to actually turn up for a shoot can prove to be… lets be generous and say… ‘difficult’.

Sometimes grannies unexpectedly die on the morning of the shoot, or they’d forgotten that they were having their appendix out that day.

So, when I ambitiously arranged a ‘trade’ shoot (no money being exchanged, just people trading their time and skills for photos for their portfolios) with not only a female model from London, but also a male model from Leicester and a make-up artist and stylist too, I can be excused for being a little nervous that not everybody was going to turn up on time or actually arrive at all. But they all did and we had a fantastic days shoot.

So, if you find yourself needing a model one day, and can stand the stress, then check out Model Mayhem.

What follows are some of the images from Saturday’s shoot, based loosely on Helmut Newton’s style of black & white photography.

Luke & Marissa Seated time 01

Diva Time!

Luke & Marissa window LOW RES 01

The 4th Floor

Flogger 01 CROP

This is not what I paid for!

Luke grainy colour city landscaspe

In the Papers.

Spilt coffee 01

Spill the Beans!

Heron at Wollaton Park   1 comment

I only discovered  we had a colony (is that the correct collective term?) of Heron at Wollaton Park in Nottingham last year. My bad (as the kids say) as they aren’t exactly easy to miss being just about the largest bird we have in the United Kingdom. Anyway, last year I photographed them whilst they were just finishing rearing chicks so this year I thought I’d get in there early doors (to use a footballing parlance) and catch them at the nest building, twig collecting phase of their year.

So wrapped up snug in my Bear Grylls outfit I went stalking the Heron last Sunday morning. It was a really sunny bright blue sky day but very cold in the strong breeze. Hmm, bitterly cold in the strong ‘breeze’ – good job Bear can’t hear me.

Trees and lake

By the time I arrived the sky had started to cloud over and  looked more like this. But with the cold wind came fast changing skies and we were treated to a morning of intermittent sunshine.

Heron in tree Twig

Twig collecting had started in earnest; and the resident Heron were making it look very difficult. And the bizarre thing was that they seem to stalk the desired twig as if they were hunting for fish. Their slow patient movements followed by a smooth yet careful extension of the neck culminating in a caressing clasp of the twig in their beaks.

Heron in tree trunk

The longer I watched them the more I couldn’t help but think that this was all a cruel joke by mother nature! I could imagine the Herons standing in line at the dawn of creation awaiting their various attributes to be bestowed on them by Mother Nature.

Mother Nature (looking up from her desk): ‘Ah the Herons – right then, you lot will be nesting in trees.’

Herons (looking pleased with themselves): ‘Cool – just like Ospreys at the very top of ancient towering trees, commanding majestic views of the landscape!’

Mother Nature (looking embarrassed): ‘Yeah…no, these will be your bog standard trees growing in public parks and such, although some of them may be by the water.

Herons (slightly deflated): ‘Meh… okay, so not towering trees, just right at the top of ordinary trees – that’s still cool.’

Mother Nature (fidgeting with her pen): ‘Yup..at the top. That’s right. And…. at every other level in the tree too… also actually inside the tree. And sometimes it would be a stretch to describe them as trees – more like a big bush thingy!’

Herons (looking aghast – as only Herons can): ‘Seriously! Have you seen us? Long uncoordinated legs, big flapping wings and this big beak – inside a BUSH!?

Mother Nature (suddenly engrossed in the paperwork on her desk) ‘Yes, yes that’s correct. And…. (in a small voice) you’ll have to climb around inside the trees and bushes to find nesting material!’

Herons (becoming affronted): ‘You must be F&%king joking! What do you think we are; Tits!? We’ll be extinct in a year!

*Cut to undignified scenes of name calling and fisticuffs.

Heron in tree branch

*An affronted Heron stands and contemplates how it all could have been oh so different!

Heron in flight Twig

Prehistoric and majestic in flight and about 2 seconds away from landing at the penthouse suite of a straggling willow tree and suddenly becoming a lot less majestic and dignified.

Heron in tree Twig green

Squawking a deep throated battle cry to keep other Heron away from a hard fought nesting site took up a lot of the morning. That and grooming (seen here).

Heron on bank hunting 01

Notice how totally pissed off this Heron looks. That’s because he’s just dropped the twig he’d spent 5 minutes waddling around in the tree to obtain. He can be seen here trampling on a Coot’s nest in spite.

Heron on nest

On the nest! Still a lot of work to do on this one but its coming along nicely.  Plus it could be worse – he could be a penguin!

 

 

 

Lincoln Horse Trials 2014   Leave a comment

The Lincolnshire Horse Trials took place this weekend. It’s a very well established equine event held early in the season, and it attracts national and international entrants for the PreNovice, Novice and Intermediate level classes held over the three days.

I was there shooting for Eventing Worldwide on the Sunday which was the Intermediate class featuring such house-hold names (at least in the equine world) as Mark Todd, Oliver Townend, Caroline Powell, Izzy Taylor, William Fox-Pitt, and many others.

Here are a few pictures. many more are to be found on the Eventing Worldwide site.

Ruth Edge - Mister MacCondy - 868

Ruth Edge on Mister MacCondy

Willa Newton - Neelix - 973

Willa Newton riding Neelix

Oliver Townend - Sandiman II - 814

Oliver Townend on Sandiman II

Alyssa Yallop - One More Step - 830

Alyssa Yallop riding (briefly held on course) One More Step

Red Squirrels and Waterfalls – part 3   Leave a comment

On our last full day we trekked out to Dod’s Forest again. This is the home of the Osprey viewing platforms, waterfalls (everywhere in the Lake District) and those cheeky red squirrels.

It wasn’t yet the season for Osprey’s, we met up with a couple of volunteer Forest Rangers prepping one of the soon-to-be-manned cabins and they said they didn’t usually migrate and arrive at the lakes until the end of April.

Ranger on roof

Ranger on the roof: these little huts are manned 24/7 in the Osprey season to ensure the Ospreys and their eggs and chicks are kept safe. Each year they tag the chicks and monitor their progress.

Bassenthwaite Lake 01

The views over the lake were spectacular up here and the distant hills beautiful.

Having climbed to the top of the Forest we began the descent to the halfway viewing station. On the way down Buzzards began to circle suspiciously above us. Ellie our Scotty dog took cover.

Buzzard 01

At the half way station they had bird feeders and a squirrel feeder, so we took the weight off our feet and plonked ourselves down for a well earned break. Amongst the constant stream of Blue Tits and Finches we were paid a visit by a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

woodpecker

The Great Spotted Woodpecker: easily spotted. There look on the bird feeder – which is kinda cheating again but our attention was on stalking the squirrels – the woodpeckers will have to wait for another day. :)

So, sitting in the beautiful afternoon sun and toward the end of the last full day we continued to scan the trees and mossy banks in front of us for those elusive red squirrels. As time passed more birds came and went but still no squirrels and we started to think about winding our way back to the car when Sam heard some ‘scritting’ (her word) behind her and getting my attention with the loudest whisper possible alerted me to the scene unfolding behind us.

Whilst our attention had been down the forest in front of us, two red squirrels were chasing each other around a large thick pine tree across the track behind us. I turned to see one of the pair take off up the Forest bank but the other one stayed put, right in the middle of the sun kissed pine tree trunk!

Red Squirrel light pine tree 02

Here is the handsome chap. Casting a look over his shoulder at me. He sat there for some time looking back at us and I sat there taking photos of him. I’m no wimp but holding up a heavy DSLR camera shoulder high with a large telephoto lens on it gets kinda heavy after a while, but I didn’t want to drop it down in case our cheeky new friend took off at that very moment or threw a different pose.

We continued to eye each other; him not moving, me with my shoulder muscles on fire. I’m sure he was grinning. It was no good, I had to drop the camera for a moment and let the lactic acid disperse. And yup, the moment I did he took off!

Red Squirrel light pine tree left 03

He scampered around the front of the tree as I lifted the camera back up and thankfully he stopped, perched on a small branch. Then we played the same game again. But this time I was ready for him – I inched forward and propped the camera body on a conveniently placed wooden post on the back of the viewing platform. Aha squirrel – the advantage is now mine!

Red Squirrel light pine tree 01

Realising the superior intellect had thwarted him he became compliant and shifted his position to offer me his best profile.

Red Squirrel light pine tree edge 04

And finally he posed for the camera one last time before disappearing out of sight. Here he is showing off those wonderful ears. It was only later, on our way down that we noticed that many of the pine cones on the forest floor were not only very similar in colour to the red squirrel but at their pointy pinnacle they had hair like shoots growing upwards – almost identical to the length and shape of the hairs at the end of the red squirrels ears!

When you think about red squirrels in green pine forests it can seem as though evolution didn’t pick the best camouflage for our cheeky little friends. However, when you really look carefully at the pine forests in the lake district they are full of different shades of red; where the tree bark is broken or scraped it appears red underneath, the cones are reddish in colour and many of the ferns, when they are dead or dying back, are russet coloured. Even the creamy white of the bib that the red squirrel wears can be seen all over the forest in the white pithy wood of broken branches.

Well that concludes my blog about our trip to the lake District to photograph the red squirrel – I hope you enjoyed the pictures and if ………. oh wait a minute….. we haven’t done the helicopter!

Helicopter 01

So, the helicopter. As I was sitting there, taking pictures of woodpeckers and just before the sneaky arrival of the red squirrels behind us, we heard a rapid chuzg – chuzg – chuzg sound approaching from the North end of the lake.  And quite suddenly a rather huge helicopter slid in to view directly in front of us, flying low over the sun kissed, sparkling grey water. For a rather bizarre moment I had an image of this great big flying thing attempting to land on the bird feeder for a quick snack. It must have been the long walk up in to the forest messing with the supply of oxygen to my brain. But it was a sight to see, and quite unexpected.

Finally then, it was time to return home. We fell in love with our first visit to the Lake District and we plan to return again this year for the arrival of the Ospreys. Stay tuned and thank you for joining us on our adventure. :)

Red Squirrels and waterfalls – day Two.   1 comment

Our hunt for Red Squirrels began on Saturday morning in Whinlatter Forest (see here for back story: http://wp.me/p1tlxQ-84 ), just a few miles from our base camp on Derwent water. Although, perversely enough my first encounter was to be earlier that morning just a few hundred meters away.

I’d headed out before breakfast to try some long exposure photography at the waterfall down the lane. I’d taken some test shots and attached the ND filter (neutral density filter – reduces the light coming in to the camera to allow longer shutter times) and positioned my camera on its tripod when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to see a distant red squirrel bounding over the moss between the trees! Without thinking I grabbed and detached the tripod plate from the tripod and brought the camera up to my eye and took as many shots of the squirrel as possible as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

Examining the images on the camera back revealed nothing but a vastly underexposed image – of course. Drat. I took the ND filter off, reset the camera for the correct exposure under the conditions and stood quietly, waiting for the little guy to reappear. It did not. So I reluctantly went back to photographing the waterfall.

Waterfall Lodore Falls 02

Above: part of the waterfall at Lodore. Notice how it contains absolutely no red squirrels.

I returned to the hotel and told my sorry tale to my wife as we wandered over to the breakfast room with our dogs. She asked to see the evidence. I showed her the back of the camera and explained about the ND filter. She was not sympathetic to my plight. I think she may have laughed.

After consuming a full English breakfast and copious amounts of tea we set off for Whinlatter Forest. I went to the information kiosk and asked the two rangers there about the best paths to walk in search of our quarry. They looked shamefaced at me and explained that there was forestry commission work going on which involved felling trees. They apologies saying that many of the pathways were closed. I thanked them and left, thinking how perhaps we should have stayed put at the waterfall back at the hotel and stalked the squirrels there. But that isn’t the spirit is it. Its not the destination but the journey so they say.

Whinlatter Forest

And the views around Whinlatter Forest were beautiful even for early March.

Walking the trails I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be to live locally and stake out an area like the one in the image above. I can easily see me picking the perfect mossy tuft and daily baiting it with nuts and seeds and waiting patiently in the shadows decked out in camouflage gear, for that perfect shot. Now that’s the way to do it. However, as this was not possible on a 3 day break I was kinda depending less on field craft and more on blind luck.

So, we set off on a trail that had been marked with wooden stakes with a pink blob on the top. As we started up the trail my wife commented, ‘I think there is a very slim chance of seeing red squirrels on a trail that has been marked with…..’ at which point a red squirrel bounced across the path about 20 feet in front of us and disappeared in to the forest. After a moment of stunned silence we burst out laughing. It was at this point that I began to think mother nature was toying with us.

It all happened so quickly I hadn’t even turned my damned camera on (Canon 7D with a 100-400mm lens attached). I know, I know, first rule of wildlife photography; turn your camera on. :) Much encouraged by our encounter we continued our trek in good heart. We treked and we searched and we searched and we treked but to no avail. No squirrels.

We decided to descend again and return to the visitors center for some hot chocolate and a bite to eat. Half an hour later we’d arrived back by one of the car parks and stopped to get our bearings when my wife tapped me gently on the shoulder and pointed behind me.

‘Up there’ she said, ‘on top of that feeder, its a red squirrel!’

I turned to look but couldn’t see it. ‘where?’ I said.

‘On the feeder’ she said.

‘Which one, I can’t see it’ I said.

‘The one with the red squirrel on top of it’ she said laconically.

Red Squirrel on Feeder 02

And there he (or she) was. It was some distance from me and I took several shots of it before daring to creep closer. The beautiful creature was watching my every move and although it was being very photogenic I really wanted a shot of it on a branch, or on the ground, or… well, anywhere but on top of a red squirrel feeder! It felt a little like cheating. I edged closer. He watched my edging. I edged closer still, he resolutely refused to move. Eventually my incremental creeping was creeping him out and he turned tail and ran along a high branch. I photographed him as he went, getting some great shots of his backside.

And just when I’d given up hope of him turning around before he disappeared… he stopped, hopped up on to a lichen covered branch and turned to look down at me. CLICK! :)

Red Squirrel Feeder tree 01 CROP

I’m sorry… but that is just the cutest thing! He looks like a stuffed toy. He’s certainly been wintering well. Look at those little tufted ears. And those incredibly long fingers – which makes perfect sense when you see how dexterous they are. If Beatrix Potter had painted him he’d be wearing a little red Paisley waistcoat.

We saw no more Red Squirrels that day, but we didn’t care, this encounter had been a red letter day.

Tomorrow: more red squirrels, and Buzzards, oh and that damned helicopter I mentioned.

Red Squirrels, Lakes, Helicopters and Waterfalls   2 comments

As previously advertised a few weeks ago in this Blog, we set off for the Lake District last weekend in search of the elusive Red Squirrel! The Lake District is the home of Beatrix Potter, dramatic landscapes, fascinating history and, we certainly hoped, Red Squirrels.

The Lake District, also commonly known as The Lakes or Lakeland, is a mountainous region in North West England. A popular holiday destination, it is famous not only for its lakes, forests and mountains (or fells), but also for its associations with the early 19th century poetry and writings of William Wordsworth and the other Lake Poets.

Historically shared by the counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, the Lake District now lies entirely within the modern county of Cumbria. Which is much more convenient.  All the land in England higher than three thousand feet above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike (not a type of Lake land fish), the highest mountain in England. It also contains the deepest and longest lakes in England, Wastwater and Windermere, respectively. And most importantly boast the largest number of Red Squirrel spotting opportunities in England.

We set off on the Friday morning with our two dogs for a ‘dog friendly’ hotel on the shores of Derwent Water – and with the recent rainfall, I really do mean on the shores of the water. Our hotel, The Mary Mount Hotel, was set in the woods just a few hundred meters away from spectacular waterfalls. The hotel was a pure delight; huge cooked breakfasts sent you on your way in the mornings and a sumptuous evening meal in the restaurant overlooking the lake concluded each day.

There was so much to commend our stay in this beautiful region of the country that I’m going to break this account down in to 2 or 3 blog entries. So, without further a-do here are the words and pictures:

Derwent Water Lake grass 01

This was just one of many of the fantastic views across Derwent Water, the location of our Hotel. The heavy rain which has fallen over the last few months meant that all of the lakes in the vicinity had acquired newly expanded shorelines. In some cases this meant taking to the road where the high water made it impossible to keep to the lakeside pathways. We coped though – or at least those of us with longer legs than a Scotty dog did. On several occasions we had to carry our Scotty dog Ellie to stop her from having to doggy paddle.

Mallard 01

Of course, with a lot of water comes a lot of water fowl. This find specimen of a Mallard was busy trying to blow that bit of downy fluff of his bill when we caught up with him. Despite several tries whilst we sat and took a rest she was unable to dislodge it, but it did mean that her preoccupation allowed me to get a close-up photo of her.

Derwent Water Lake rocks 01

The shoreline changed from super-saturated mossy sponge to scree and rocks with only a moments advance warning. This was often followed by several meters of ancient tree roots strewn in our path before changing back again as we progressed, to more traverseable pathways.

Flying Geese Derwent 01 Crop

Geese honked their way across the oil painting of a lake on a regular basis. The only thing to disturb the tranquil waters was the regular appearance of the ferry boat that picked up and dropped off at various jetties along the shoreline.

Waterfall Lodore Falls 01

Just across the road behind our Hotel were spectacular waterfalls. There was a steep climb up the left hand side of the falls through boulders huge and small that had been cast down over time.

Sammy, Prince and Ellie

And here are my partners in crime; the intrepid gang of fearless Red Squirrel hunters. From left to right they are; Sammy the human, Prince the Lurcher (he’s already looking for squirrels look) and Ellie (who wouldn’t know a squirrel if it bit her on the nose) the Scotty. The Hotel had a separate breakfast room and restaurant that you were allowed to take your dogs in to. Fortunately our two, after a long days walk up fell and down waterfall, only had enough energy left to slump contentedly under the table as we ate each evening.

So concluded our first day of exploring our immediate vicinity and that night we planned our itinerary for the following day (Saturday) and our hunt for our first ever sighting of a red squirrel in the wild.  Tune in for tomorrow’s blog entry to see how we got on.

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