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

Cute tiger cub

Kittens and cubs at WHF

There have been many kittens and cubs born at WHF and we have been lucky enough to photograph some of them. My favourite are the Pallas Cat kittens, specifically, Tula and Wei-Shand’s first litter, which consisted of two boys – Caspian and Aduva; and two girls – Pamir and Ulan Bator.  The boys eventually went to Jardin des Plantes, while Ulan Bator went to Parc de Felins and Pamir to the Rare Species Conservation Centre.

I have had the pleasure of watching Pamir grow up at the RSCC and have even visited Ulan Bator at Parc de Felins but haven’t quite made it to see the boys.

Pallas Cat Kitten

We were quite fortunate to be able to photograph the Pallas Cat kittens as they were off-show at the time but we were allowed to photograph them from a safe distance away. This was more for the kittens’ safety than ours since they are vulnerable to toxoplasmosis until they are 4 years old!

Pallas cat kitten sitting on a rock

Toba and Kubu, the Sumatran Tiger Cubs have given us some wonderful photographic opportunities since they were 10 weeks old.  Access to the kittens and cubs at WHF is a lot more limited than say the RSCC but we still managed to capture images of them at 10 weeks, 16 weeks and then at 1 year old. Here they are at 10 weeks old.

Sumatran Tiger Cub close-up

At 16 weeks, these Sumatran Tiger Cubs still looked cute but you could see their faces were already changing. It was just lovely, watching them playing together.

I love you bro - sumatran tiger cubs kissing

Playing and practising their stalking skills…

Stalking practice

I mean, how could you resist this face?

Soulful eyes

And those beautiful eyes.

Sumatran tiger cub - Endangered cat

As young sub adult tigers, Toba and Kubu they have lost all their cubbish looks and you can see what magnificent adults they are growing to be.

Sub adult male sumatran tigers

Xizi the Amur Leopard has also had two litter of cubs but we only managed to visit the second litter – a boy and a girl named Manchurian and Zeya respectively.

Amur leopard cubs at WHF having a discussion

Taking photos of the amur leopard cubs proved to be quite challenging as Xizi was an extremely protective mother and kept charging at the fence.

Amur Leopard Cub at WHF

Samia, the Serval cat was brought into WHF specifically to breed with Malawi. The result was also a boy, Mwazi and a girl named Jua.

Two month old serval cat kitten

These adorable kittens were just 2 months old when we visited them and as cute as a button. I look forward to having the opportunity to photograph them again as they get older.

A Study in Cute Kittens and Cubs at WHF

Male Tiger of Bandhavgarh

Tigers of Bandhavgarh

After a rocky start to our trip thanks to the ineptitude of British Airways, we eventually arrived in Bandhavgarh, 24 hours later than scheduled.  Rather than take the overnight sleeper train from Delhi, this year, we opted to fly from Delhi to Jabalpur.  The travelling was still hardcore, but by opting to take an internal flight, we saved ourselves a second day of travel.

Macaque hugging tree

We arrived at our destination an hour before the afternoon game drives commenced.  After a quick freshen up, we went to meet our naturalist.  Much to our delight, we recognised Sanju from our previous trip.  Upon arriving at Tala Gate, we were also very happy to see that our friend Blind Dog, Rosie was still going strong.  It felt like we had never left.

Indian Deer

Our assigned route was B and D – one that we were very familiar with.  As we drove along the route, I was overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia tinged with much sadness.  There was the Meadow where we had witnessed Chorbera teaching her cubs how to hunt and the stream where she used to lay in whilst watching her cubs at play.  The crossroad where we had sat for over half an hour waiting for the Mirchani cubs to cross the road.  The plateau where we first met B2.

Monitor Lizard

We wondered what would be in store for us as we didn’t know the new tigers but were hopeful that we would catch a glimpse of the new lord of bandhavgarh. Sightings were more sporadic because the temperatures were much cooler in November which meant the tigers did not have to come to water.

One of the new tigers was Jhurjhura male, the son of Jhurjhura tigress who had tragically died of injuries sustained when hit by a car the day before we arrived in the park last year. Ironically, Jhurjhura male hated cars and had been known to charge them when he spotted to them so I was more than a little nervous when we came upon him by chance.

Jhurjhura Male Tiger in Bandhavgarh

I need not have worried as our guide was well aware of Jhurjhura’s temperament and gave this most beautiful tiger the space he needed to go about his business. Jhurjhura is rarely seen so the fact that we were lucky enough to have encountered him on our first day, I took as a good omen for our trip.

Our second day gave us the sighting we had hoped for. Bhamera, son of B2 and the new lord of Bandhavgarh. His beautiful face was ruined during his deadly combat with his father but forever made him instantly recognisable.

Bhamera son of B2

As ever, Sanju knew exactly the path that Bhamera would take so when he drove us away from the tiger, we trusted that he knew what he was doing. Sure enough, within minutes we could see the new dominant male heading in our direction.

It wasn’t until we left Bhamera as the sun went down and I looked at the back of my camera that I realised where we had left him. The image staring back at me left a lump in my throat – it was the very spot where we had first seen his father, B2. It seemed fitting that we should leave him there, resting where his father used to pose so graciously for his adoring audience.

Bhamera resting in Bandhavgarh park

I had hoped to meet fierce Kancutti, the new queen of the Meadow. I hadn’t realised that she had lost an eye to Chorbehra when they fought and I was intrigued by this sister of Jhurjhura male. Sadly, we never got the chance as she was nursing very small cubs and sightings of her were therefore rare. We did however, meet Bhamera’s new queen, Benbai.

Benbai tigress of Bandhavgarh

Benbai is a magnificent mother and a fierce protector of her cubs. Indeed, when one of the mahouts went into the brush where we knew she and Bhamera were resting with their cubs, it was Benbai who roared and charged the elephant whilst Bhamera led the cubs higher up the mountains.

Chorbehra’s cubs are thriving on the outskirts of the park. The rangers are keen to protect them so have created a special area where they can roam and hone their skills. There have been many sightings of them, mainly at dusk. We had hoped to see them but we were not lucky. Ironically, the cubs survival is largely due to their father, Bhamera, now taking a hand in their upbringing. It seems that B2’s bloodline runs strong.

We left the new tigers of bandhavgarh feeling that changes were coming to the park but probably for the better. Bhamera is busy securing his borders and spreading his seed everywhere. This will ultimately prove to be his undoing but such is the circle of life in Bandhavgarh. I look forward to coming back to India to see how the tale unfolds.

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.

Backlit fox cub

British Wildlife Centre in Autumn

I didn’t think I would be going back to the British Wildlife Centre this year after my last visit, but when they announced the arrival of a new Scottish Wildcat male for Kendra, well… how could I resist?

It was also a pleasant surprise to see Flo and Frodo’s cubs.  I suspect though that it won’t be long before the cubs go off to their new home.

Attentive british wildlife fox cub

We have always been extremely lucky with the Scottish Wildcats at the British Wildlife Centre.  Sadly, our luck ran out today.  With the exception of Dougal and Una, the others did not make an appearance at all.

Scottish wildcat yawning

Whilst I was disappointed, I wasn’t surprised.  As mentioned in earlier posts, both Kendra and Iona have had a hard time this year – the sisters had both lost their respective mates and their litters.  In Kendra’s case, she had actually given birth to a second litter.  Tragically, all the kittens died after just a few weeks.

Turbo, the baby Hedgehog is almost the same size as his father now.

Hedgehog

I don’t think I will ever get over my bird phobia, but the more time I spend with owls, the more I am growing to like them.

Tawny Owl looking up

Stirling, one of the resident British Otters.  We’ve never had the opportunity to photograph Stirling before so this was a real treat.  He is such a lovely otter and so obliging when it comes to photo calls.

Happy otter

Velvet’s kittens were out and about so we took the opportunity to get some shots of them.

Pop up polecat

We did one final session with the fox cubs at the end of the day.  Since this was probably the last time we would see them here, we made the most of the opportunity.

Red Fox Cub

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.