Kestrel stalling

Kestrels of Pool Bridge Farm

Pool Bridge Farm near York is a well established fishery, boasting five picturesque lakes stocked with a variety of fish. What you may not know is that the farm is also a haven for wildlife such as owls, kestrels and foxes to name just a few.

Kestrel on broken gate

When we heard that Mike, the owner of Pool Bridge Farm had wild kestrels on his land, we contacted him and asked if we could pop down and photograph them. He and his father have built a hide specifically for photographers to enable them to photograph the kestrels at close quarters, on feature posts with clean backgrounds.

Wild Kestrel in flight

We were met by Mike’s father at 8am. He took us down to the hide, gave us a quick briefing and then handed us a pair of tongs and a tupperware container full of pig’s heart and left us to get on.

Gliding Kestrel

For anyone who is thinking of photographing wild kestrels, I really can’t recommend Pool Bridge Farm enough.  The set up is just perfect and the fact that we were left with the meat meant we were able to bait whichever post(s) we liked,  to get the shots that we wanted.

Kestrel coming in to land on a broken gate

During our day in the hide, we got to learn a lot about kestrels, their behaviour and to even recognise their calls.

Kestrel skimming the grass

We were also fortunate enough to be able to photograph a fledgling kestrel who was easily identifiable due to the fact that he was still fluffy and slightly lighter in colour than his parents.

Female kestrel feeding her fledgling

As you can see from my images, the photo opportunities were simply amazing.  For those of you who have never been in a hide before, if you are planning on spending the day in one, it’s best to take some food and drink with you as patience will be key.  Also, depending on the weather, you might want to consider warm clothing and a cushion is a definite must!

Kestrel posing on a post

It was a fabulous day and I for one can’t wait to go back next year, hopefully to photograph some kestrel chicks!  For those of you considering true wildlife bird photography, you really can’t go wrong if you make Pool Bridge Farm your first port of call.  Mike and his father couldn’t be friendlier or more helpful.

Kestrel coming in to land

 

Osprey with fish

The Ospreys of Rothiemurchus

The return of ospreys to Scotland is one of the outstanding conservation good news stories in the UK. Since the first pair returned to breed at Loch Garten 50 years ago, ospreys have become an established part of the spring and summer scenery.

Osprey fishing in the fog at Rothiemurchus

Young ospreys need to eat a lot of fish to build the strength to survive the long migration to Africa. During this critical summer period, the male adults must feed both the chicks and their mothers.

The Getaway

The Rothiemurchus estate actively encourages the birds to fish at the lochs around the estate fish farm near Aviemore. This helps ensure the young birds always have enough to eat, even when fishing is difficult at other locations.

Take away fish at Rothiemurchus

A purpose built photography hide on a purpose built osprey pond at the Rothiemurchus Fishery is an excellent place to get spectacular shots of osprey fishing at close quarters.

Osprey rising from the lake

The hides are situated right on the water’s edge so no matter where an osprey dives, it will be in view of the camera lens. With this in mind, you probably won’t need anything bigger than a 70-200mm lens.  The pond is stocked with fish that are the correct size for osprey, providing an even stronger lure for them when they fly over the ponds.

White EJ fishing for fish

While we were in Scotland, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to observe them at another location where fish is nailed to the perch, meaning that the osprey stays to eat the fish, rather than take it back to the nest.

Perched male Osprey looking over his shoulder

This was a wonderful opportunity to get some perched shots and also meant that we got more than just a fleeting glance of these amazing birds.

Perched Osprey with fish

Whilst the diving shots are dramatic, I personally prefer the perched shots where you get to see their talons and the wonderful detail in their plumage.

Male Osprey pre-flight

Three cheetah cubs

Cheetah Cubs at Colchester Zoo

The cheetah cubs, one male and two females, were born at the beginning of July and have been named Malawi, Savannah and Tatu respectively.  By the time we finally made it down to Colchester Zoo to see them, they were 4 months old.

Cheetah Cub posing

When we arrived at the enclosure, the cubs were sleeping under the watchful eye of their mother.  Luckily for us, they were coming to the end of their afternoon snooze so we didn’t have to wait long for them to wake up.Mother and cubs posed briefly on the rocks for us but the cubs got bored very quickly.  They wanted to play!

Cheetah family posing on a rock

After a few unsuccessful attempts at breeding Uria by sending her to other zoos, it seems the secret to success was to bring a male cheetah to her at Colchester Zoo.  Jack was introduced to Uria earlier this year and the pair hit it off immediately.  Whilst many hail this successful pairing as being down to “computer dating”, what many people may not know is that unlike most of the cat family, Cheetahs actually have to fancy each other in order to mate.

Many congratulations to Uria and Jack.

Cheetah cub at Hamerton Zoo

Cheetah Cubs at Hamerton Zoo

Six weeks after we first met them, David and I plus a good friend were privileged enough to be allowed special access to photograph 3 adorable cheetah cubs at Hamerton Zoo.  Born on 30th June, the three boys were named Kito, Makali and Tyson.

The cubs had grown significantly since we last saw them but at 15 weeks old, they were still small and extremely cute.

Cheetah Cub close-up

Cheetah Cub lying in grass

Cheetah cub looking up

The cubs were very sociable as a result of being hand-reared.  We spent a wonderful morning watching and photographing them whilst they played, chased each other and posed beautifully for us.

Cheetah cub siblings

Cheetah cub resting in the grass

Coy cheetah cub

When the cubs started to tire, Tracy, our keeper for the morning suggested that we leave them to have their lunch whilst we go photograph the adult cheetahs.

I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record now but there really is no better place to photograph cheetahs than at Hamerton Zoo.

Adult male cheetah

Cheetah looking down

Cheetah looking back

Cheetah sitting with crossed paws

Thanks to Tracy for organising the photography morning for us and to Rosa for being such a great mummy to the cubs and furnishing me with their date of birth and names.

Portrait of a British Otter

Tamar Otter Sanctuary

The Tamar Otter Sanctuary is probably the best kept secret in the world of Otter photography.  We only found out about the sanctuary through following wildlife photographer Tom Hadley on Twitter.  After seeing his wonderful photos, we decided we needed to visit this place for ourselves.

Situated a few miles outside of Launceston, this little gem of a wildlife centre turned out to be a real find.  Whilst it is primarily an Otter conservation and rehabilitation centre, it is also home to free roaming Fallow Deer, Muntjac Deer and Wallabies, as well as six species of Owl and a pair of Scottish Wildcats.

There are 2 species of Otter to be found here – the British and Asian Short Clawed Otters.

Tamar Otter swimming

The centre specialises in rehabilitating and releasing orphaned British Otters and have to date, done a fantastic job.  Currently, there are 10 British Otters and 9 Asian Short Claw Otters in residence.

The Asian Short Claw Otters are easily identifiable since they smell very strongly of fish!

Asian short clawed otter eating fish

The photographic opportunities afforded, especially during feeding time are simply phenomenal.

British otter holding a half eaten fish in his claws

Female british otter eating fish

It was a fantastic day out and the food in the coffee shop has to be commended.  Of course, you can always take your own sandwiches and sit at one of the picnic tables outside to eat, but be aware that you WILL attract all the Ducks, Geese, Peacocks, Silver Pheasants and Guinea Fowl!

Tamar Otter swimming in river

The Centre is funded by the income generated from visitors and all conservation and rehabilitation activities are funded from this income.  They receive no external funding so if you love Otters and fancy a day out with them, I really would recommend a visit to the Tamar Otter Sanctuary.  It really is worth a visit.

Polar Bear close-up

Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig

The Highland Wildlife Park is a 260 acre safari park and zoo located near Kingussie, Highland, Scotland.  The park opened in 1972 and is run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which also runs Edinburgh Zoo.

I have to admit to not being sure about the park when we first arrived, mainly because we hadn’t expected the first part of the visit to be a driving safari in our own car.  However, by the end of the day, we were completely in love with the park.

The Highland Wildlife Park is home to a rather large troupe of Japanese Macaque, also known as the Snow Monkey.

Japanese Macaque Huddle

In Japan, they are the subject of many Buddhist myths but more interestingly, they are the monkeys behind the famous saying “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

Baby Macaque at Highland Wildlife Park

The thing I love most about monkeys is how demonstrably protective they are of their young.  I never tire of taking pictures of the young cuddled into their mothers or being consoled by another member of the family.

Mother and baby macaque at Highland Wildlife Park

We left the Snow Monkeys whilst they ate to go see the Amur Tigers.  However, mother and daughters were fast asleep so we carried on around the park.

Meet Walker, the two year old Polar Bear. I’m not a huge bear fan but Walker completely and utterly stole my heart.

Polar Bear reflection

The timing of our visit to Highland Wildlife Park was a little off.   Just the week before, they lost their male Red Panda, Babu.  We also missed out on seeing the Pallas Cat Kittens who had been taken off show for their vaccinations.  Jodie, Babu’s mate, was understandably very wary when we saw her.

Thoughtful red panda

The Pallas Cat enclosure at Highlands Wildlife Park is really lovely and so suited for them.  The sheer natural rock face provide Allula and Beebop with all the climbing exercise they need and the long grass at the base provides camouflage should they wish to remain invisible.

Pallas Cat standing on rocky outcrop

Allula and Beebop came to the park from the Rare Species Conservation Centre, a place that regular visitors to my site will know is very special to me.  For those of you who are thinking that the Pallas Cats look rather “bouffant”, this is because they are starting to grow their winter coats. By the time their winter coats are fully grown, these adorable cats are going to look like great big puff balls!

Pallas Cat on the rocks

The Amur Tiger enclosure is the largest of its type in the UK.  Filled with trees and natural watering holes, it’s small wonder that Sacha and her daughters Dominika and Natalia are thriving.

Amur tiger drinking water

Sacha was born in 1996 and came to the park from Moscow Zoo.  She gave birth to 3 cubs in in 2009 – Natalia and Dominika remain with her but son Vladimir now resides at Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

Tiger in the woods at Highland Wildlife Park

Despite the fact that we were at the park for two days, we somehow still didn’t manage to photograph all the resident wildlife. I guess we’ll just have to book a return visit soon.

Siberian Lynx from Le Parc des Félins

Le Parc des Felins

Le Parc des Felins is home to over 25 species and sub species of the 36 feline species in the world.  At over 60 hectares, the park which is located in the magnificent woodland estate of la Fortelle, is simply enormous.

European wildcat photographed at Le Parc des Felins

The park comprises of 5 zones, with the 140 cats that live in very large natural enclosures divided up into the 4 continents from which they originate.  The fifth zone/continent is dedicated to the lemurs of Madagascar (well their latin name does contain the word “cat!”).

Portrait of a Lynx

Whilst I had the opportunity to photograph every species in the park (and I did), I am only posting up my favourite images so not all species will be represented with an image.

Asian Golden Cat

Le Parc des Felins is home to both species of the Asian Golden Cat – grey green and red gold. These cats are normally very shy and this is the only time I have managed to successfully capture an image of them.

White tiger from Le Parc des Félins

One of the huge attractions of the park is their large collection of White Tigers. These stunning creatures do not exist in the wild. Nor are they a species in their own right. The white coat is a result of in-breeding and their population has been carefully maintained for the last 60 years by man.

Malayan Tiger close-up

The Malayan tigers live in the largest tiger enclosure in the world at 3.5 hectares. They have the most stunning face – not as mad as that of the Sumatran but not as soft as those of the Bengal or Amur tiger.

Lounging snow leopard cub

Dinah, the year old snow leopard cub was a huge draw for the photographers and boy did she know it! She still acted and played like a cub, pouncing on her mother, playing with branches and rolling down the mound, providing everyone with some great photographic opportunities.

Sumatran Tiger in Le Parc des Félins

The Sumatran tiger is distinguishable from all other species of tiger by the fact that they have webbed feet and their beautiful faces have a slightly mad look.

Pallas cat from Le Parc des Félins

One of the main reasons for visiting Parc des Felins was because another of the WHF Pallas Cat kittens had moved here – Pamir’s older sister, Ulan Bator. It’s been over a year since I last saw Ulan Bator and any ideas of easily identifying her were quickly dashed when I realised that there were two female Pallas Cats in the enclosure!

Thinking Amur Tigress

The park has 2 enormous Amur Tiger enclosures. One is home to a family of 4 and the other holds a second breeding pair. Natalya is the matriarch in the family group and was sadly, wild caught in Russia.

Lioness yawning

The Africa zone is home to two different species of lion, African and Angolan. I watched with much interest as one of the Angolan lionesses started a roaring match with the African lionesses before settling down to sleep once she had wound them up good and proper.

Gordon's Wildcat kitten from Le Parc des Félins

This adorable kitten is a Gordon’s Wildcat and one of a litter of two kittens. The timing of our visit turned out to be impeccable as the park was full of cubs and kittens.

Persian Leopard as photographed at Le Parc des Félins

The Persian Leopard enclosure is huge with tall trees thus allowing the leopards to hide out in the tree branches, just as they would in the wild.

Black Leopard photographed at Le Parc Des Félins

Conscious that we still had one last zone to visit, we didn’t spend as much time in the African zone as I would have liked, but the jaguars in the American zone more than made up for this.

Jaguar cub

The breeding pair had had a litter of two the previous year and whilst they were technically no longer cubs, they were still cute and behaved more like cubs than sub adults.

Mountain Lion in profile

The Puma enclosure is just lovely. It’s spacious with plenty of trees for the five Pumas to climb and chase each other in and made for some wonderful backdrops in which to photograph.

Geoffrey's Cat looking over her shoulder

The female Geoffroy’s cat was very relaxed, unlike her mate who paced endlessly. I got tired just watching him.

The original plan had been to leave le parc des felins at around 5pm in order to ensure that we made it back to Calais on time to catch our train. Based on how long we spent in the park yesterday, we decided to stay in the park til closing time and then rush back. If we missed the train that we were booked on to board, then we would simply get a later one. As luck would have it, we actually made it back in time to board our train!

Portrait of a sand cat

Rare Species Conservation Centre

The Rare Species Conservation Centre is a fantastic little sanctuary located just outside of Sandwich, Kent.  Formed in 2006, the centre is dedicated to preserving the world’s lesser known rare and endangered species of animals which are often overlooked by the bigger and more mainstream zoos.

The volunteers were extremely friendly and well informed about the animals in their care.  It was also obvious that everyone there was passionate about conservation.

Todd’s announcement of the closure of rare species conservation centre was met with much dismay by all its supporters.  Not surprising considering what an amazing place it is.  I guess Todd must have been overwhelmed by all the messages of support because much to our delight, he promised to open RSCC one last time so that people could come back to say goodbye.

I only learned of the place back in April and I have loved every visit I made there.

It’s not the biggest of zoos but it was unique in that there is no other zoo in the country where one had such easy access to newborn animals.  Had it not been for Todd and his staff, I would not have photographs of Fishing Cat kittens or a Rusty Spotted Kitten growing up.  It was also home to Pamir, a Pallas cat who I’ve watched since she was a kitten at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

As a photographer, the rare species conservation centre was a dream location.  The keepers always made a point of letting me know which animals they were feeding to allow me to gain the best photo opportunities and on occasion, they even fed some of the cats early in order to help me get the pictures I wanted.  Nor will I ever forget the countless hours I spent on my knees gaining the trust of the young kittens.

We arrived around 11am and from the notice on the door, saw that the collection was much reduced.  Of the animals that I loved, the only ones that still remained were the juvenile Fishing Cats, the Rusty Spotted Cats, the Black Footed Cat, the Desert Sand Cats and the Jaguarundi.

Below is a selection of some of my favourite images from the summer. Click on an image to see a larger version.

I am going to miss the antics of Ping, the smooth coated otter and the crazy boky bokys, but most of all, I will miss the fishing cats kittens and the rusty spotted baby. I had had the privilege of watching from when they were 5 days old to 5 months old and the thought of not being able to watch them grow to adulthood filled me with sadness.

I was also going to miss Short Face and Long Face – as the first Fishing Cats I had ever photographed, they held a very special place in my heart. It has been an absolute pleasure watching them grow from juveniles into beautiful and powerful adults. Sure, I could visit them in their new homes but they would not be as accessible as they had been.

Farewell rare species conservation centre, I will miss you and its residents.

Pallas cat looking into the distance

Pallas Cats and Tigers at Port Lympne

Today was our first day back to Port Lympne since they introduced their Passport scheme.  It’s been 9 months since our last visit and to be honest, I’m amazed that we haven’t been back sooner, especially since there was the opportunity to watch the Amur tiger cubs growing up!  Still, we’re here now and armed with Passports, we can come back as often as we like.

There have been quite a few changes at Port Lympne since we were last here and I’ve yet to decide whether it is an improvement or not.  Many of the animals have been moved to different enclosures, some for the better, others, in my personal opinion are for the worse.  I was also extremely surprised to see that Port Lympne had Red Pandas again so soon.

Upon arrival, we were given a map and told to make our way to Base Camp.  From there, we would take one of the safari trucks to do a tour of the African Experience.  The truck would stop at certain points and we were free to hop on and off as we felt like it.  Whilst the ride was different and allowed us to see many of the resident animals, it didn’t really stop long enough for those of us looking for photographic opportunities. I can honestly say that having ridden on the safari truck once, I don’t personally feel the need to do that part of the experience again.  For me, it simply ate too much into my photographic opportunity time.

The final truck stop was by the entrance of the Carnivore Territory.  As we approached, I noticed that the Scottish Wildcat enclosure was now off show.  Fortunately, there was still access to the Lynx and Caracals who were situated across the road from the Wildcat enclosure. However, unless you have been to Port Lympne before, you would not necessarily know which path to take in order to see them as they are not signposted.

New to us in the Carnivore Territory was the Pallas Cat enclosure.  It is simply enormous and quite lovely for the resident Pallas Cats, of which there are two – both females.

Pallas cat stare

Regular readers of my blog will know how fond I am of Pamir Pallas Cat (location currently unknown) and how pretty I think she is; but I have to say that this little girl comes a close second.

Pallas cat running out of tunnel

She kept us amused for ages by doing a little circuit of the enclosure.  This started off with her disappearing into her log, scampering around the back to emerge into view again from the tunnel below. From there, she would run along a connecting log, have a little scratch and then disappear back into the little log.  Occasionally, she would mix things up a bit, just to keep it interesting for us.

Pallas cat emerging from tunnel at Port Lympne

Meet Delhi and Calcutta, Port Lympne’s resident Bengal tigers.

Male Bengal Tiger

The tigers were located quite close to one of the eating areas and as we were hungry, we decided to have a very late lunch before taking more pictures of them.  The timing of our eating couldn’t have been better.  No sooner had we sat down than the heavens opened up.  It rained heavily for quite some time and by the time it finally abated, the tigers had retired to their den.

Bengal Tiger of Port Lympne

We decided to go and see the Amur tigers but when we arrived, they were all asleep!  As it was getting close to closing time for the park we decided to call it a day and come back another time.  Now that we know the new locations of all the cats, our next visit should be more productive.

Three month old fishing cat kitten

Farewell Fishing Cat Kittens

It’s been just over 5 weeks since my last visit to the Rare Species Conservation Centre (RSCC) and I was excited at the prospect of seeing all the kittens and pallas cats again. Having spent so much time with them before the centre closed for the month of June, I had missed them.  Little did I realise how precious this visit would turn out to be…..

At just over 3 months old, the Fishing Cat kittens had grown a lot and were starting to lose their kittenish looks but they were still as cute as a button.

Shy fishing cat kitten

I wondered whether the kittens would recognise me after such a long break and was ridiculously happy when they came over to say hello.

Fishing cat kitten looking up

The kittens were now eating solid food but were still relying on milk from their mother so whilst they suckled, I left to see how the Rusty Spotted Kitten was getting on.

At 10 weeks old, the Rusty Spotted Kitten had also grown but as you can see, he is still very much a kitten. He was still quite shy and decided that he preferred to peek at me from the safety of his den rather than stay out in the open.

Rusty spotted kitten peeking

Daddy Rusty Spotted Cat is kept in a separate enclosure because he wasn’t playing so nice with the kitten.

Rusty spotted cat emerging from tree hole

The Amazonian area was being repainted and the smell of paint was starting to make me feel queasy so I popped outside from some fresh air.  I timed my exit well as Schlotti the Sun Bear was out and about.

Schlotti Sun Bear

RSCC is home to two Sun Bears – Schlotti and Indera. The latter is a young male and still quite shy so although they share the same enclosure, they take their play time in the sun separately.  This is mainly to help Indera settle in.  As the keeper called Schlotti to get her back into her pen, I waited for Indera to come out. He was surprisingly easy to spot.

Sun Bear climbing

Short Face and Long Face, the juvenile Fishing Cats were also out and about and posed beautifully for me.

Fishing cat on rock

My favourite Pallas Cat, the lovely Pamir. Whilst I didn’t get to spend much time with Pamir while she lived at WHF as a kitten, I had grown quite attached to her since her move to RSCC to become part of the Pallas Cat European Endangered Species Program (EEP).  In fact, had it not been for Pamir, I would never have discovered RSCC.

Wise face of a Pallas Cat

The Rare Species Conservation Centre has been phenomenally successful when it comes to breeding and the thought of being able to spend lots of time with Pallas Cat kittens, should Pamir get pregnant filled me with much excitement.  However, this was not to be.

As I mentioned at the start of my blog post, I had no idea how precious this visit to the RSCC was going to be. Unbeknownst to me, this was to be the last time that I would see Pamir, Genghis, the Fishing Cat kittens and their parents at RSCC. Just a fortnight after I visited, they were all relocated.

I still have no idea where Pamir and Genghis have gone and this saddens me greatly. What pictures I have of them are now so very precious, as are those of the Fishing Cat kittens as teeny weeny kittens.

I also have no idea of the whereabouts of the Fishing Cat kittens’ parents.  The kittens themselves now call the Wildlife Heritage Foundation home.  They’ve also been given names – the boys are called Aquarius and Neptune and the girl, Angel. I take some comfort in the fact that I will still be able to see them grow up but it won’t be the same as I no longer have the easy access that I once had when they were at RSCC.