Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography – Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.


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Mountain Hares in Scotland

I’m back from Morocco after a week of surfing and exploring Marrakech. Panic is starting to kick in about how little time we have left to organise things for Madagascar in a months time. I plan to get up a couple of blog posts about Madagascar preparations and what I’m taking, as I did for the Kalahari but for now I’ll share some of the images of Mountain Hares taken whilst I was in Scotland a couple of weeks ago.

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The first hare doing its best impression of a boulder.

I have visited the Cairngorms on a couple of previous visits to Scotland and I usually like to try to find (and hopefully photograph) some of the iconic wildlife of the highlands on these trips. My main approach in the past has been to wander about hoping to see an animal before it sees me and creep as close as I can get before it flies/runs off. Of course this approach has gained me relatively little success leaving me with only a few half reasonable shots of grouse in the distance and usually with feelings of  frustration as they fly cackling over my head and land a couple of hundred metres away.

Obviously this approach was not getting me anywhere so I thought I’d let my pride stop getting in the way and admit that just because I have spent a lot of time photographing animals in Africa I don’t suddenly have a command over the entire animal kingdom. After the realisation that actually my knowledge of highland wildlife was pretty poor along with my general field-craft skills I wanted something more from this trip, especially before leaving on another adventure I wanted some images of native UK wildlife that I was happy with.

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Whilst I was in this kind of mood I read a blog post about how to photograph Mountain Hares by Andy Howard Nature Photography. What struck me about this post was firstly how natural and relaxed the hares looked in his images but also how willing he was to share his knowledge. Feeling relatively wealthy after several months of working nights and many hours of overtime in the lead up to christmas I decided to book a days guiding with Andy.

Sure enough my impressions were not unfounded as Andy turned out to be extremely knowledgeable about hare behaviour and extremely passionate about the hares with special emphasis on making sure they were relaxed enough for us to capture natural behaviour.

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A good stretch and a scratch behind the ears after a nap.

Unfortunately when we arrived at the location there wasn’t a huge amount of snow. Photographers tend to go crazy about snow and the opportunity to photograph a white animal in a white habitat is almost more than some people can bear! Anyway I wasn’t too disappointed, just excited to be out and ready to see some hares.

Andy quickly pointed out several white dots that with my closer inspection through binoculars turned out to be hares. White hares on green heather are actually surprisingly difficult to spot as they look exactly like the white boulders that were poking out of the heather at random intervals and they stay very still most of the time.

After walking past a couple of hares that Andy said looked unfamiliar and a bit worried by our presence we found Andy’s favorite hare with distinctive markings which unfortunately wasn’t in a very photogenic location so we tried a different hare that was in a slightly more open area.

We spent the next hour or two slowly creeping towards the hare, letting it relax fully enough to display natural behaviour after each forward movement. At one point this hare even had a little nap!

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No amount of camouflage would work at these distances as it would be blatantly obvious to any animal that you are trying to creep up on it no matter what you were wearing besides there were no bushes or shrubbery to use as cover on these hills. Andy’s technique relied mainly on staying low, moving very slowly and talking between us to give the impression to the hare that we weren’t a threat.

After we had gotten sufficiently close and waited long enough to see the hare stretch, yawn, eat a pellet  and then relax again (rabbits and hares eat their own faeces as unlike a lot of herbivores they only have a single stomach and the food they eat is so tough) we backed off and tried again with two more hares.

After getting the close up and behaviour shots I wanted to try to get some wider shots to get a sense of the landscape. This was a little tricky as the hares get a bit worried when approached from above/behind however with Andy advising me on the hare’s level of fear I got into position and managed to get the shots I was after. With the light fading rapidly we retreated for the last time and walked back to the car.

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Having previously let my pride get the better of me I was actually really glad that I sucked it up and in the end I was humbled by Andy’s passion for the hares and put to shame by his field skills. Hopefully the moral of this blog post is that just because you have a few good shots of a certain animal you should never let your pride get in the way of seeking help and although previously of the opinion that guided workshops were for rich amateurs that don’t know their way around a camera this experience has changed my view. Most pro wildlife photographers offer workshops on particular species and if you choose someone who is as passionate about the wildlife as the photography you are sure to learn something!

P.s. consider signing this petition to protect the Mountain Hare in the UK: PROTECT THE MOUNTAIN HARE

www.robinhoskyns.co.uk

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Red Squirrels!

I got back from a week in Scotland a few days ago and whilst I was there I visited Northshots Red Squirrel hides. I was a bit dubious about paying for hide rental as it seems like there are several of these hides set up by wildlife photographers all over the country and some seem to produce very similar if not identical looking images. Also it seems that anyone with a bit of money could build up a great portfolio of images quite quickly without any real field skills and it seems a little bit like cheating! However you can’t knock something until you’ve tried it and having only seen one red squirrel before I was fairly keen to get some pictures and see for myself what these sort of set-ups are like.

The view from the jumping hide. You can see the posts for the squirrels to jump between where the hazelnuts are placed.

The view from the jumping hide. You can see the posts for the squirrels to jump between where the hazelnuts are placed.

Of the three Red Squirrel hides that Northshots have set up I chose the woodland setting rather than the jumping or reflection pool hides as I wanted the most natural look. I was met by James Shooter who is currently working at Northshots who informed me that the woodland hide hadn’t been very active recently and recommended the jumping hide. The hide was set up so that the squirrels ran along a log and jumped onto a platform feeder.

A view of the set-up from outside.

A view of the set-up from outside. You can just see the reflection pool which is set up for a different hide.

Two squirrels arrived after about 20 minutes wait and stayed for a little while, munching on the hazelnuts left out for them, long enough for me to get some decent shots. They returned after about an hour for about the same length of time. Unfortunately I didn’t quite manage to nail the jumping shot as the light wasn’t too great but got plenty of “almosts”. I was shooting wide open at ISO 1600 to get the shutter quick enough to freeze motion and 300mm at 2.8 the depth of field only gives a few centimetres leeway either side! A bit of nice sunshine and I could have stopped down and probably got a reasonable shot.

Poised and ready to jump!

Poised and ready to jump!

The closest I got but still a little out of focus!

The closest I got but still a little out of focus!

All in all I enjoyed the session and had a reasonable length of time with the squirrels, long enough to get shots that I wanted and have some time to watch them and enjoy not looking through the viewfinder. I am still under the opinion that hide rental is cheating a little bit but it was certainly nice to have had the hard work done for me and it was great to see the squirrels nice and close!

Here’s a few “almost” shots:

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And a couple of nice habitat shots:

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