Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Top Ten Wildlife Experiences of 2015

2015 has been a great year for me and enjoyed many wildlife spectacles and events that I've been wanting to do for a long time. I often get a bit blasé with the locations and wildlife I see so Its nice to take a look back on the year and see what I've gotten up to.

10. In Pursuit 

 Filming for 'In Pusuit' in France

Many of you reading this will well know I'm quite keen on fish so its no surprise that I enjoy angling also and following on from working on Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing for Skysports last year I was working on another angling series called In Pursuit. It was a great series to shoot on and as well as interviews, time lapse and presenter led work I was able to get plenty of wildlife shots which I particularly enjoyed when shooting in France for nearly a month. I had many firsts with night herons, white storks, turtle doves and a rather horny coypu trying to get in my tent which I'd rather not talk about!

       Scarce Swallowtail                                                                       Hummingbird Hawk-Moth
For me the highlight of the wildlife was the moths and butterflies having been to norfolk many times to see swallowtails I was treated to dozens in a french lavendar garden (the scarce species anyway) and lots of hummingbird hawk moths really stunning insects.

9. Ospreys

Having seen ospreys both times at Birdfair I really wanted a closer view with my camera to hand and heard of a local trout farm which has had the ospreys visiting regularly grabbing the odd trout. a 4am start and short drive got me and friend Harry Hall to the hide and although we saw one fly over it wasn't meant to be. A follow up trip resulted in a much better encounter and the osprey went in to grab a rainbow trout. I did get one shot but nothing I was happy with as the light was just not out enough for my camera to get a decent shot so may warrant a return trip in 2016!

8. Cairngorms

Female Ptarmigan 

Looking back I almost forgot I'd even been to the Cairngorms this year let alone spending two weeks up there and one of them leading a photographic tour with Josh Jaggard. The first week was mostly about getting images that previously had eluded me so two grouse species were on my thoughts ptarmigan and black grouse. The ptarmigan proved relatively easy once you get your eye in and ears tweaked for there call. Black grouse however were a different kettle of fish.

Male Black Grouse 

I've used hides for many species but this was the first time I'd slept in one over night. Now conditions were more or less ideal in the night little wind, no snow and open skies and it was still bloody freezing and my sleeping bag become part of a pond with me in it! Come the morning I was wet, cold and not in a great mood with little to no sleep topping off the fact I could hear Josh snoring like a trooper next door as if to rub it in. However as soon as heard the male black grouse outside I soon forgot the past several hours and had a amazing experience with males nearly brushing up against the hide completely unaware of me. A unforgettable night and morning for many reasons!

Common Frog near the cottage

The other thing I enjoyed photographing was some of the less glamorous species up there like frogs, toads and insect larvae in the rivers.

7. Barn Owl

Barn Owl

As part of my work I'm lucky that I get to work all over the UK but I very much enjoy finding wildlife thats local to me and on the way to doing a workshop for Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust I noticed a barn owl flying over a field. I drove down a country lane and parked up alone a fence line and sure enough the barn owl landed metres from me an amazing sight that was totally unplanned and still made it in time for my workshop.

6. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Film

Invasive Signal Crayfish 

I've been filming various wildlife and issues along the River Derwent for Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and have really enjoyed the challenge so far as its involved many filming techniques I don't do as often as I'd like. One part was highlighting non natives like signal crayfish which has infested some rivers to the point that nothing else is found in them.

Hen Atlantic Salmon in Derbyshire

One success story is the return of salmon to Derbyshire the most inland population in the country. The film is going well and will continue into next year and be finished by september when showings will go out locally as well as being put online for anyone to see.

5. Pond Tank

Dragonfly Larvae 

There are some very talented 'pond tankers' Neil phillips springing to mind and its something I'm still learning about but have done a fair bit this year. I've found it one of the most challenging forms of wildlife photography in trying to get pictures to look natural and not like they have been taken in a shoddy aquarium much harder then in sounds! Its a great way to work with very small subjects which can be difficult to locate in a pond or river and can live in very murky water normally ruling out underwater photography.

4. Hedgehogs

Twiggy being released 

I personally have never had a issue with 'staged' wildlife shots providing people are honest about the image, hedgehogs for example are rarely out in the day unless very sick so getting daylight images of them is tough thus I headed to a hedgehog rescue centre who were released a few at dusk with just enough light to snap a few portraits off. They have had a tough time recently with massive declines so happy to provide images to the centre.

3. Springwatch/Countryfile 

As well as filming for TV this year I've featured on the other end of the camera a few times also! Springwatch was a real highlight for me and we went to the welsh wye to film what fish were hanging around. It ended up that we didn't film that many species but it was more about me and my obsession with filming lots of fish species.

Watch the clip here

Springwatch Crew 

If Springwatch wasn't enough I then was contacted by Countryfile who wanted to interview me again about fish and this time a bit closer to home in the Peak District with wild brown trout. They got in touch again for another episode this time filming something with feathers for a change! It hasn't aired yet but will be on the Winer Special Jan 4th.


Highly Commended BWPA 2015 Animal Portraits

For the last 5 years I've been short listed for the British Wildlife Photography Awards but never got any further until this year when a little minnow got me in the book and the exhibition. I'm not a overly competitive photographer but its always nice to have your work recognised by peers and odd free glass of wine didn't go a miss at the private view either ;)

1. Shetland

 Stunning wildlife, stunning scenery welcome to Shetland

Shetland had long been on my wildlife destinations hitlist (which seems to get longer each year) but decided to take the plunge and get a flight to Sumburgh. I then got a hire car and had to drive 3 hours north with two ferry crossings to get to Unst which considered I'd only been driving a couple weeks prior was quite pleased I got there in one piece! The plan was to do mainly underwater but that went out the window when I got hooked on puffins and otters!

 Son and Mum in the kelp

I really wanted a image of a otter underwater and do intended to visit shetland again at some point to do but stuck to topside work mostly for this trip. Walking nearly 10 miles each day trying to spot otters along the coastline was exhausting but ended up with many encounters seeing more otters then I can remember. 

Me and Josh failing to get a puffin decent selfie

Overall its been a great year and next year looks even busier with a few projects planned, a book, on TV twice in January and much more. Have a great new years eve and a happy new year  

Jack Perks

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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Film: River Derwent

I'm currently doing a commission for the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust on a short film profiling the River Derwent and Its wildlife as well as showing problems and successes on the river.

Cattle eroding the riverbanks 

I've got the next few months to try and capture as much as possible before editing it into a short film that will then be released for everyone to see. I'm trying to build up a data base of locations to film various wildlife along the Derwent, Rivers that enter the Derwent such as the Wye or Lathkill and work out how best to film which is where you may be able to help! below is a list of priority species. if you know of a likely sight to see these please get in touch. If you have any suggestions or other species that use/inhabit the river I'm keen to cover a range of species, issues and triumphs. 

Water Vole


White Clawed Crayfish
Signal Crayfish
Mayfly Larvae
Stonefly Larvae 

Brook Lamprey
(any shallow area with clear water)

Problems and Successes 
Willow Weaved into banks
Invasive species
Pond restoration near rivers

Himalayan balsam a non native plant found along various points of the Derwent  

Bullheads are small fish living on the riverbed 

Little egrets are increasingly becoming more common on the Derwent

Jack Perks

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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Review: T3 Trailerfinder Binoculars

Using a blind for cover

So it's a wet and dull Tuesday morning at Skylarks Nature Reserve in Nottinghamshire and I'm testing out two products: the T3 Trailfinder and Macwet Gloves - however I've put them into separate posts, so if you're interested in seeing the gloves review click here. In a way the wet weather was good as it meant I could really test out the gear and see how it handles a wet day.

Striking my best 'pretend to be looking at something' pose 

Primarily I'm a photographer so, when spotting wildlife, it's normally through a lens rather than bins but the camera is put aside for my guiding and photography workshops. As a rule, I tend not to use my camera on them (unless something amazing happens, then it's out of the bag in seconds) as it's my job to get the client the images they are happy with, whether it's getting off auto or looking for kingfishers and water voles.

Now my 'Oh I've seen something' pose 

The T3 is lightweight at 742g, which means it's no bother to carry around my neck, in its bag (which can fit into pockets nicely) or fixed on to a belt. I've gone for the 8x42 model as it offers a wide enough view to spot wildlife while I can still hold it steady and direct clients to point their camera in the direction of said critter. It also comes in 10x42 and the more compact 8x25 & 10x25 models.

Adjusting the bins

Despite the day's dull, wet weather, it coped well with the rain and low light levels still giving me an excellent and sharp viewpoint of the rather soggy wildlife. Though the wildlife was a fair way off on this day, the bins can focus up to 1.5m close in, ideal if you were after species like dragonflies or butterflies.

Hanging down, the low weight is a advantage

 The eye-pieces are adjustable, as is the focus, but this is stiff enough so that it's unlikely to be knocked and come out of place easily. They come in very natural colours and don't cost an arm and leg at £139.00 from the Opticron website they are on more of the budget end for decent binoculars.

The new blue steel?  

Opticron are, as you may have guessed, an optical company so they don't specialise in photographic gear. However there's no reason why it can't be applied to cameras. The mounts are designed for scopes but I tested out a couple of their mounts with a camera in mind, namely the universal mount which as well as fences and gates can more or less be attached to anything it fits on, like trees or rock edges.

The grip was excellent even with the rain 

It saves carrying a tripod around, though of course there are limitations in that you need something nearby to fix it to so I would use this on more of a pre-planned shoot where I know there's something nearby to fix it to and is perfect for remotely triggered photography or trail cameras.

The rain was relentless so retreating to the car provided some cover

The other mount I tried out was the car window mount. Now a long lens would have been better to test this out but (rather ironically for the day's weather) I mostly do underwater photography, which doesn't merit a 500mm, so for the sake of testing I was stuck with a kit lens but 300mm + would be better in car hide situations. I was quite surprised how sturdy they are and its being on a ball head made it easy to adjust positions.

Using a QR plate as well meant it could be detached easily

I can see multiple uses for it including elderly or disabled photographers, or people with mobility issues who can still get great images from the comfort of a (mostly) dry car. Many car parks in nature reserves have lots of wildlife. Loch Garten, for example, in the Cairngorms has crested tits right in the car park!

Overall I would recommend any of the equipment I tested out as it worked well in the wet weather and is simple to use at a reasonable cost. For more equipment visit the Opticron website

Jack Perks

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Review: MacWet Gloves

Good grip on the binoculars 

So it's a wet and dull Tuesday morning at Skylarks Nature Reserve in Nottinghamshire and I'm testing out two products the T3 Trailfinder and Macwet Gloves however I've put them into separate posts so if your interested in seeing the Binoculars review click here.

Rain not proving a problem at all 

MacWet are a company based in the West Midlands and their gloves are for all kinds of outdoor uses like golf, fishing, clay pigeon shooting and even scuba diving but today I'm testing them with a bird watching/wildlife photography use in mind. So firstly, why use them?

Hands kept warm while waiting for the wildlife to appear 

Well on a day like today I wish I had brought my wetsuit as it was absolutely miserable! The gloves are actually measured to the person so they fit perfectly (I'm 8cm). They're comfortable and breathable so your hands don't get sweaty.

At £27.99 they are a investment for your birdwatching or photography 

Their motto is 'all grip, no slip' and it really rings true as with the increasingly bad weather it was like having a second skin on as the grip was more or less the same with them on.

Easy to adjust the dials 

They are not 100% waterproof, however my hand remained fairly dry and more importantly warm, which means I can handle the more fiddly bits on cameras and binoculars in cold/wet weather. They are made from a material called Aquatec, which is a material designed for grip and warmth when wet.

Smaller buttons easy to press 

In the past I've had problems with other gloves either being warm but not waterproof or vice versa. These gloves did a great job of keeping the wind off my hands and keeping them warm. Because they are quite thin, it means even the smaller buttons on the camera are easy to use.

Being lightweight they can be stuffed into camera bags and pockets with ease.

A velcro strap means you can fit the gloves to your wrist for a tight fit and keep out the wet this way. They come in two designs with a long cuff version (used here) which has a water resistant back and is fleece-lined. They other version is meant for warmer climates and both come in various colours like green, black and white.

Different sizes for different hands mean a snugger fit

For me as a photographer and cameraman, the main attraction is the fact that even with the gloves on you still retain dexterity and sensitivity while keeping the elements at bay. It also means that for tasks when I'd normally need to take the gloves off, like changing a memory card, battery or pressing small buttons. However, note that answering a smartphone or touchscreen may not work with the gloves on. To find out your size take a tape measure in centimetres, place the tape measure across the fleshy bit of skin just under your four fingers to give you your size. 7cm (size 7) is considered a medium women's size while 8cm (size 8) is considered a medium man's size.

Machine Washable 

The green colour is very helpful as it's surprising how much wildlife can spot the movement and colour of a hand, so when held against your face it acts as camouflage. The gloves are completely washable and doing this will keep them at their top performance.

Overall I would recommend the gloves for photography or any other outdoor use. I'll certainly give them a go next time I go fly fishing, gardening or hiking. It worked well in the wet weather and simple to use at an acceptable cost. For more equipment visit the MacWet Website

Jack Perks

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Thursday, 3 September 2015

Eight legged neighbours

 Wolf Spider Mother on Moss

Visiting Birdfair a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to see quite a few non birdy stalls and conservations groups such as the the Butterfly Conservation Stand and The British Arachnological Society whith some stunning Fen Raft Spiders on display. It encouraged me to get out into my own garden and see what beasties I could uncover.

Baby wolf spiders on there mothers back

Gardens can be a forgotten nature reserve but added up make the largest sanctuary for wildlife in the UK. Armed with Nikon 60mm Macro I went on a bug hunt (sorry arachnid hunt). I found a mother wolf spider with hatchlings on her back. They stay with her for protection until they hop of into the big wide world. 

 Daddy long leg spider
Depending where abouts in the country you are a Daddy long legs may be a cranefly or harvestmen but this is the spider version Pholcus phalangioides. Because of humans its colonised most of the world though can't tolerate cold weather so is mostly found indoors in toilets or houses but has the habit of eating other spiders sometimes quite venomous ones so is welcomed in some parts of the world.

House Spider 

The big girl of the bunch is this house spider who quite happily lives next to my kitchen. She does a great job of mopping up any flies that try to get into the house and moths attracted by the lights. Spiders are very clean and tend to stick to one area rather then flies which could be full of bacteria after feeding on something rotten elsewhere so spiders are great at keeping them at bay.

Fancy a cuddle?

It just goes to show you don't have to travel far to find unusual and interesting subjects to photograph.

BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporter
Jack Perks

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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Shetland: Otters, Puffins and More

So after a 6 hour delay waiting for flights and then a 3 hour drive/ferry trip through the islands I made to Unst the top island in the Shetlands which would be my home for the next few nights. 

 Otter Cub

Shetland has long been a part of the United Kingdom I've wanted to visit and as a wildlife photographer it plays host to lots of A List species like otters, puffins, gannets and even orcas. My main aim was to get images of otters and puffins but also some of the other species. I had hoped to do more underwater photography but the weather and time was not on my side for this trip. 

Enjoying a crab onshore 

The Shetland isles have a healthy population of eurasian otters and unlike there mainland cousins these ones have adapted to a life at sea. Eating a range of fish and crabs they have plenty to choose from in the rich waters around the islands. Low tide is the best time to find them as they hunt along the shore. This otter came out of the water to eat the crab just a few metres away from me!

Cub (left) and Mum (right) at low tide 

Over the course of a week I must of seen 20 otters and as long as you keep your eyes peeled spotting otters on Shetland isn't to difficult its getting the images that is the hard part. Lots of walking up and down rough ground is needed and plenty of fieldcraft to avoid them hearing, smelling or seeing you. The otters on Shetland tend to be slightly darker and smaller then the mainland otters but whats most beneficial to photographers is they come out in the day quite happily.

 Latest in a series of wildlife selfies with Josh

My guide for the week was Josh Jaggard who works for Shetland Nature and happens to be a good friend of mine. Although certain species you can go and find on your own, certainly for the decent photo opportunities I'd recommend a guide particularly for otters and you can't beat Shetland Nature for this. I wouldn't class myself as a novice with fieldcraft but a lot of things that wouldn't of crossed my mind Josh instructed me so that the wildlife wasn't disturbed and I got a photo or two.

 Puffin in its habitat

I've photographed puffins in the Farne Islands before with minimal success and even planning to photograph them underwater (when I get round to it) but still lacked some basic portraits and a few wide angles. The cliffs around Shetland have huge seabird colonies with gannets, fulmars and shags mixed in with the puffins. Shetland is wet and windy on the best of days so waterproofs are very handy though reading one of the notice boards it mentions they aren't the best clothing for the cliffs as if you fell you'd slide down quite quickly which I wasn't keen on.

Golden light just slipping away 

Josh had spent 3 months on the islands and said in all that time he'd only seen a handful of golden light sunsets so when it happened with the puffins I tried to capture as many images as possible with the soft golden light around.

Stretching its wings for flight 

Puffins are a iconic subject as such have been photographed very heavily this can sometimes put off photographers but I always think each photographer has there own unique style however subtle so don't be put off just because others have done it, it doesn't mean your audience hasn't seen it or potential clients.

Territorial display against other bonxies 

These big bullies were a bit of a surprise for me I'd heard of Great Skuas (Bonxies locally) but not given them much thought. They have a lot of character and known as pirates of the cliffs as they harass and bully birds as big as gannets to drop there catch. They have a darker side though as they quite enjoy eating seabirds like puffins and littered around the cliffs you can see wings spread from where they have tucked into a meal.

Black Guilliemots 

I didn't quite get the shot I wanted with these guys and did even try to do some underwater photography with them but the weather got a bit rough. The classic shot is of the red feet on show and mouth open showing the red but they had other ideas!

Overall my trip to Shetland was success getting most of the images I wanted and I'll be back to get some more underwater images!

BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporter
Jack Perks

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