Lectures/Talks: Martin Mere – Bird Festival

Within this post, I intend to discuss the various talks and workshops I was able to attend throughout my visit to Martin Mere Bird Festival that I mentioned in some of my previous research.

During my visit, I outlined various aspects of my prior research to try to get the most of out the event. In this, I will focus upon the contextual and aesthetic insight I gained through naturalists, authors and photographers.

The first talk was by Jeff Clarke: A Night on the Tiles – The Ramblings of a Noctural Naturalist.

Clarke’s approach was quite informal but I was able to extract elements of constructive and helpful information when considering environmental and wildlife photography and conservation.

  • You often get more sightings of young owls around late May, June – refers to Mersey area.
  • Frogam Marsh is a good place to spot wild rabbits, which will lead to sightings of its predators – stoats.
  • Stoats have short ranged eyesight so to remain undetected just stay still.
  • Highlights that foxes are underrated and intelligent, they are often the subject of much discussion – sightings along Mersey estuary.
  • Animal trapping is general a very safe way observing wildlife (through licensed professionals) – he mentioned how camera trapping works and how to attract wood mice – fill with hay, sunflower oil and chocolate.
  • Reinforces the significance of reconnected children and teens with nature and wildlife – small mammals often encourage much enthusiasm.
  • A great deal of areas within the North West often have many rivers and ponds filled with plastic bottles.
  • There is wealth of wildlife in reed beds.
  • Shrews are considered inedible to most animals except barn owls – he recalls observing fox attempting to eat a shrew with much disdain.
  • Night jars can be tracked by listening to their distinctive squeak which means they are in flight – throwing a handkerchief draws their attention.
  • If you intend to get close to badgers, don’t wear perfume or deodorant (strong scents) as this will draw their attention – they are drawn to peanuts and honey.
  • Nights in June/July are an excellent time to spot moths – you can catch them at any time of year where it is over 6 degrees.
  • Soprano bats are a recent discovered species of bat despite being the second most common species of bat in the UK – Oxmoor reserve.

The second lecture I attended was by Dominic Couzens about mammal watching.

This lecture was based around the contrast between bird watching and mammal watching, and how mammals in the UK are underrated or misrepresented.

  • RSPB has 1,100,000 members
  • Mammal society has 2000 members

Some of the problems with mammal watching:

  • Not enough species to see
  • Species too secretive
  • Too many are nocturnal
  • Generally too difficult
  • Have a bad reputation
  • Too much interference from people
  • Too much red tape
  • Too much gloom and doom

No of possible species to see/hear over a year:

  • Birds – 350
  • Mammals – 60

I have also highlighted various other elements of useful information.

  • Weasels are hard to see, sighting are often luck based as they often underground and nocturnal.
  • Grey squirrels are an invasive species who were introduced in the 1920’s because of social preference – introduction resulted in squirrel pox.
  • Deers often quite regularly sighted and easy to see.
  • Orcas and whales can spotted around Britain – Marine areas.
  • House mice and brown rats have gained a negative reputation within social expectation – spread disease, eat crops – easier to spot at zoo’s or london underground.
  • There are only two native species of deer in Britain – fallow deer were introduced by William the Conqueror
  • He is passionately against the badger cull, instead favouring the suggestion of vaccinating cattle against TB.
  • We have many introduced/non-native species of mammal in Britain.
  • We introduced red necked wallabies to Loch Lomond – wiped out to due to interference with rare birds.
  • One of the most difficult mammals to observe are bats – you need a license to work with them.
  • Within a write up of Horseshoe bats for BBC Wildlife, there was some upset within the response – too heavily protected, a balance is needed to encourage greater interest.
  • Many mammals have a negative reputation including foxes and badgers.
  • Fox stories within media outlets often focus upon aggressive examples – child attacks.
  • You get the most mammal sightings in September.
  • Signs of mammals are found through remains of food or excrement.
  • Good place to spot red squirrels is Brownsea Island

Aspects that make mammal watching better than bird watching:

  • More iconic species
  • Sense of satisfaction all the greater
  • Often requires expedition

The third and final talk/workshop that I attended was Maxwell Law, award winning photographer: Earth, wind & flight.

This workshop offered a more photographic perspective, which I found to be very constructive.

  • Maxwell Law is an award winning photographer who started in full time career in photography quite recently – he travels around the world capturing landscapes and wildlife images.
  • Law states that patience is a key part of wildlife photography
  • You often get the best images from a low angle, meeting the perspective of your subject – ‘from the toe’.
  • Constantly keep photographing, take photos everyday and submit them online – encourages a stronger practice and technical skills
  • A potential location is nearby to Martin Mere – no people, potential for good light and compostion
  • He refers to his images from Al Garde – winter is an excellent time for bird photography
  • Point of view is very important with bird photography – lie on your back or down on the ground as it makes your subjects feel more comfortable.
  • You need a large telephoto lens at least 300mm, build up from there – helps capture birds in flight.
  • Experiment with black and white images – depends on context
  • Observing feeding animals can be a good opportunity for an interest subjects.
  • Patterns and form are a good aspect to develop upon as they help define your subjects – look out for a separation in the flock.
  • Frame interesting crops, rule of thirds – use one third of the image to emphasise your main subject.
  • Aim to convey emotion, create personalities within the image – find drama, expression or motion to animate the image.
  • Wide landscapes can be just as successful at conveying wildlife subjects – wide angled lens
  • Portugal is a great spot for wildlife photography.
  • Think about context, the birds are just as important as the technical qualities.
  • Law is involved with the Royal Photographic Society.
  • Use extension tubes, especially when starting out as this is a much cheaper method of achieving macro images.
  • Anticipation and practice are very important in keeping your work of good quality and relevant.
  • Show relationships between animals – it can be fun or aggressive but it makes for more definitive, life like imagery.
  • It is generally best to avoid bright sunshine, as it intensifies distracting shadows – 6 am or 6 pm.
  • Exposing for the white of the bird is essential for strong contrast – don’t go with a shutter speed lower than the focal length of the camera.
  • Take advantage of poses and reactions – watch birds scavenge.
  • Opportunist shots are some of most successful.
  • The Wirral offers a good locations for wildlife.
  • Visit RSPB sites
  • Burnley is an excellent place for spot kingfishers.
  • Exposure compensation is essential – as is your ISO.
  • Marsh Harriers are an interesting subject – you can often find them at Martin Mere.
  • Detail wildlife/nature shots can be very compelling through abstraction.
  • Watch for breaks in the clouds, as it creates a separation with flattering light.
  • A strong composition to try is a bird looking into an open sky.
  • You can find Red Kites in Wales.
  • If you are attending a feed, wait around for an hour or so after as your subjects will be more natural – a stealthier hunt makes for a stronger image.
  • Brown sea island is good for spotting Short Eared owls – very photogenic subject.
  • The south coast of Wirral is good for bird spotting.
  • Leighton Moss is a good place to spot owls.
  • Reflection, light and colour are important aspects to successful images – a nice technique is to desaturate everything within the frame except the subjects distinctive features such as a colourful beak.
  • Advised that you should follow your passion as it conveys within your images.
  • Telephoto and wide angled lens are the most essential part of a wildlife photographers kit.
  • In regards to exposure, he feels that underexposure is far easier to work with than overexposure in terms of editing.
  • He shoots full frame with a 600mm lens – around 16 mpx per frame, F4 or 5.6.

After the talk, I decided to approach Law and ask him about his practice, as well as asking for more information about the potential kingfisher location in Burnley. He was happy to inform me on the condition that I don’t list or discuss it publicly as it will draw too much attention and disrupt their natural habitat.

Overall, I found my visit to be very constructive in highlighting various practical, contextual and technical aspects to implement within my own practice.

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