The BWPA Awards Evening

Yesterday, I travelled down to London to attend the Awards Ceremony for the British Wildlife Photography Awards. Held in the Mall Galleries, it was a wonderful evening showcasing the inspiring images from this year’s competition.  You can view all the winning images on the BWPA website by clicking on the image below:

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On display at the gallery, were all the winning images as well as the Highly Commended images. It was fantastic to see these inspirational images that really showed off the wonderful diversity of British wildlife! It was also wonderful to meet so many keen photographers, all thrilled to have had their images chosen.

It was also special to have my Dad there too, as he achieved a Highly Commended for the 2nd year running with a superb shot of a 0.5mm springtail! Well done Dad! 

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My schools entry was mounted onto a board and looked great! Diane Compton, our Head teacher and Iain Green who had done the photography day with me were delighted to see the kids’ images in amongst these fantastic images from all over the British Isles!

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Chris Packham hosted the evening, giving a fantastic talk and leading us all through the winning images, as well as awarding the prizes.

We were delighted to go up to collect our prize on behalf of all the Year 5 & 6 pupils at Michael Drayton and for me to surprise Chris, as my name had not appeared on his running order. Chris and I have met on numerous occasions, through Springwatch, Autumnwatch and at WildPhotos, but he was not expecting me to pop up at this event!

We have won a truly wonderful prize…. a Canon 1100 DSLR and lens kit  and a Raspberry Pi kit for school. The IT team at school are excited for us to get this Pi kit and I can’t wait to get going on my new Photography Club at school with our new DSLR. A massive thanks to ‘Young Pioneers’ Charity for sponsoring this part of the competition and putting up these great prizes. Find out more about this charity by clicking the link below.

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It was a pleasure to meet inspiration Luke Lancaster who set this charity up after suffering from severe bullying at school.  It is well worth checking out the website and see what fantastic work they do with young people.

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Another great bonus was our lovely images feature also in the coffee table book that is produced each year. Our shots looked lovely! Chris even signed the page for me :o)

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The certificate will also be proudly displayed in school alongside the winning images that we are having printed up.

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It was a wonderful evening… just not enough time to speak to all the people who I  wanted to talk to.. it was just all over way too quickly! Thank to Maggie Gowan and her team for all her hard work in organising this wonderful competition and the evening. It was a wonderful experience and I feel privileged to have been part of it!

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I win the Schools Award in The British Wildlife Photography Awards

 

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I am delighted to be able to announce that the photos I entered into The British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) won the Schools Category! I entered a portfolio of six images of bluebells at Hartshill Hayes. These images were all taken by year 5 & 6 pupils from Michael Drayton Junior School on a photography day organised by myself and Iain Green, a fellow photographer (www.wildwonder.co.uk) Iain and I took four groups of 9-11yr olds out into nearby Hartshill Hayes when the bluebells were in full bloom and talked to the children all about creating a photograph that would represent this amazing natural spectacle.

From framing the shot, spotting good light, looking more closely than they had ever done before and possible going for a completely different angle, the pupils were soon raring to go! Most had never really looked closely at bluebells, despite it being in an area that many of them pass regularly. They were highly enthusiastic and spotted all sorts of wildlife within the bluebells, as well as seeing wonderful opportunities using branches, wood and natural objects to frame their shots.

I was so impressed with the images, that I decided to enter them to this prestigious competition, although it was really difficult to choose just 6 images. The 6 I chose were contrasting images, hopefully to demonstrate the wonderful ‘eye’ the pupils had for spotting a great angle or shot. I am extremely proud of all the children, as there were SO many wonderful images. Our prize of a Canon DSLR camera and lens for school will mean we can do even more photography and hopefully win some more competitions! A big thank you also to Iain, who ran the day with me.

You can read more about the day from my blog post from the day HERE and check out the website by clicking the image below.

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Below are the 6 images I entered……

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I will be travelling down to London on Wednesday , with the Head Teacher, Diane Compton, from school, to the Awards Evening, hosted by Chris Packham….. I can’t wait! :o)

Water Voles Heaven!

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I spent a couple of days back at Stow Maries at the end of last week. I had visited the site earlier in the year and had had a totally incredible time photographing Barn owls and Little owls. You can see my blog post about that time HERE.

Stow Maries is a World War 1 aerodrome, that is part-owned by Russell Savory. Russell works tirelessly to manage the site for wildlife and this has paid off, as it boasts all 5 species of British owl, plus numerous other sensitive species, such as hare and water vole. I was very excited to return, especially as Russell had been telling me about the work he had been doing with water voles and I had seen some of the incredible footage he had captured. Russell has worked hard to create habitats that are suitable for water voles and this has included clearing ditches and providing varied water courses with excellent vegetation cover. He has been rewarded with increasing numbers of voles. Spending time setting up such areas and then gradually getting the voles accustomed to his presence has meant that he has built up a pretty unique trust with these mammals…. in the same way that he has hilt up a trust with the owl species. This is not something that happens overnight… it is hours and hours of patience and perseverance.  I was lucky enough to then benefit from his hours spent and I had some truly incredible experiences!

Russell has a particular ditch that is great for photography, he keeps it clear of vegetation and places small islands for the voles to sit on. A wooden platform at the other end of the ditch allows you to lay down and view them at a very low angle. Russell kindly lent me his dry suit so I could sit IN the ditch and have a close encounter. If you sit REALLY still, the voles sit and feed less than a metre from you! It was completely AMAZING! 

 I was very keen to get some photos, so lay down on the wooden board at the other end of the ditch… from here I managed to capture some shots of these charismatic little creatures! What a privilege!

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 More images can be seen on my Flick account. 

It was not only the water voles I had the pleasure of photographing, watching and spending time with. We also found a stunning slow worm, which I caught to have a closer look….

Last time I visited, I did a lot of photographing of the owls, which were feeding their young, so very active. With the breeding season now over, the owl activity  has lessened considerably, although we did get to say hello to this little guy briefly!

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I also watched this Little Grebe hunting for food to feed her two young chicks…

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It was not just daytime photography, I also spent some time with Denis, a model helicopter and drone pilot who is working on a rather exciting project with a Bushnell Equinox Night Vision. We had the idea that it would be really cool to be able to fly this piece of night vision kit and record what we saw from the drone! Not as easy as you might think and Denis has done loads of work , building a gimbal and stripping the Equinox down so we could power it from an external LiPo battery from the USB and so he can focus it remotely. It is still work in progress, but we did some tests with it in the dark and I will be uploading some clips soon. It is all very exciting and I look forward to sharing more of this project with you in the future…..

I videoed Denis flying the drone, with my Bushnell Equinox Z. You can see a few clips that Denis put together HERE

I would like to say a massive ‘Thank you’, once again for Russell for sharing his wonderful wildlife patch with me. Russell invests an enormous amount of time, effort and patience, building up the trust of these wild animals and I feel very privileged to be asked to share this with him.  It was a wonderful few days and I have been left with memories that will last a lifetime! Sitting within reaching distance of a wild water vole is very special indeed.

Night-time Visitors!

Many of you will be familiar with the live stream HD feeders cams on the front of my website. If you click on the ‘Watch my other live cameras’, you will be able to see some of the other live streams I broadcast and my night cameras appear on this page. Sometimes, if I am at home, I will transfer this stream onto the front page of my website. I have a selection of night cameras and, at the moment, I have a quad view of the kestrel box, where owls have been known to visit, a mammal box, the Prickly Diner and a Fox Feeding Station. If I am at my computer in the evenings, I can easily switch the live cameras to a full screen if I see the foxes have arrived or the hedgehog makes an appearance.

This year there are 3 young foxes regularly visiting my feeding station. These are this year’s youngsters and they squabble and argue just like human siblings! I put some dried dog food out every night… enough for a snack but not enough to stop them getting out and hunting for themselves.

This video shows the kind of action you can expect each evening. They usually appear just after dark and will often return several time during the night to see if there is any food left!

The other visitors that you are likely to see are in Prickly Diner. This hedgehog feeding station has lights and a nest box camera inside. If you are lucky, you will see the hedgehogs visiting. You may also see rats who also visit this box. I started putting out a bowl of sunflower seeds in there, as well as the hedgehog food. The rats prefer those and tend to leave my hedgehog food alone then, for my prickly visitors!

This clip shows my latest hedgehog visitor who has made several appearances per night for the last few nights. I hope he is fattening up for the winter!

These cameras are all wired back to my office and into a PC. This PC runs a piece of software called ‘i-catcher Console’. It monitors all of my cameras 24-7 and is motion detection software (just like CCTV systems). When it picks up motion, it records the footage. I can access this footage and take a still or a video from it and this is how I capture all my clips. I don;t have to sit up all night waiting to press the record button…. the system makes it easy!

The first thing I do every morning is check what has happened over night. Every now and then you capture something unexpected… one time I looked through the fox footage and was amazed to see a badger appear and feed alongside the fox! Without this software, I would have never have know that this happened! If you are watching the cameras and see something interesting, just drop me a tweet (@katemacrae) or an email wildlifekate@live.co.uk.

 

Leucistic Crows

I nipped down to the Staffs Wildlife Trust Headquarters today to hand in my forms to join Staffs Wildlife Trust. As I drove down the drive, 2 birds foraging in the grass immediately caught my eye as they were a very unusual colour! I quickly realised that they were young crows… but not the normal black coloration. These two were what is known as ‘Leucistic’. Leucism is a condition in animals caused by reduced pigmentation. It can result in either the entire surface or parts of the animal having reduced pigmentation. Leucism affects only the bird’s feathers, and typically only those with melanin pigment – usually dark feathers. A leucistic bird with different colors may show some colors brightly, especially red, orange or yellow, while feathers that should be brown or black are instead pale or white. Some leucistic birds, however, can lose all the pigment in their feathers and may appear pure white.  Albinism, however, affects all the pigments and albino birds show no color whatsoever in their feathers. Albino animals tend to have pink eyes, yet Leucistic animals often have normal coloured eyes. 

These two crows had blue eyes. They looked like young individuals and I presume they are from the same clutch. With this lovely soft coffee coloration, they are certainly going to cause some interest and will confuse some people! Leucism can cause issues with individual birds, as they can be more obvious to predators due to unusual markings. Sometimes, as plumage is so important in courtship, such individuals find it difficult to find a mate. 

These two seemed to be coping just fine and it was great to see them… I thought they looked rather attractive!

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BirdFair, Rutland 2014

Bird Fair at Rutland has to be one of my favourite shows of the year, as it is really a quite unique experience! Rarely do you get such a huge gathering of wildlife enthusiasts together in one place for a weekend and it is definitely a recipe for great wildlife experiences, talks and products of course! It is also a wonderful opportunity for catch-ups with old wildlife friends and meetings with new!

As of last year, I was on the Bushnell Stand in the Optics Marquee. As part of my role as the UK Brand Ambassador, I designed and built the stand, along with the team, to showcase the very best of the Bushnell ranges. As trail cams are the kit I use most, my stand design aimed to show the many contexts that these rather addictive pieces of kit can be used in.

The stand is split into two sections in the marquee, with a walkway  in the middle. I designed half the stand to be a garden set-up, with the other side depicting a woodland. These are the areas that I feel most people use trail cams. I love creating stands and there is months of planning and searching for products that will help me create the scene I have in my mind! My garage port was full of show stuff and on the Wednesday morning, I loaded the hire van up and even managed to squeeze in two trees, thanks to G-Scapes, in Lichfield, the wonderful local nursery who support me with loan of great plants and materials for the shows I undertake.

Arriving at BirdFair on the Wednesday, there is  a buzz of anticipation as lorries, forklifts and people heave boxes and stand materials into place. Luckily, the weather was quite kind and the sun was shining and the ground was not too wet. Andy, the stand builder had built the main structure of the stand and it was then up to me to put all my plans into action and create the vision I had had in my mind for the last six months!

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I started with the woodland area, using some Birch stumps that Rob at SilverTrees had kindly made up for me. We had also collected lots of woodland debris to add to this section to make it look authentic. I had bought some Silver Birch wallpaper that had been put on boards for behind this section…

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It is rather like building a stage set! Once all the materials and ferns were in place, it was time for some characters! I had searched the Internet for some natural looking animals and had found some great resin creatures that added the final touch to the scene…

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I mounted trail cams on the stumps, along with information. I was really pleased with the final effect, so moved on to build my garden! I had brought some artificial turf, plants, feeders, bird table, nest boxes and some great new product from CJWildlife that will then be trailed back in my patch at home. I started by creating a pool out of tyres… like Fern Pool I have here at home, along with a hedgehog house from Ark Wildlife and log piles. All of this could easily be created in your own garden!

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It took me the rest of Thursday to create the garden area, plant it and arrange everything…

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By the end of Thursday, I was finally happy with what we had created and the rest of the team had sorted all the stock and the displays of the Bushnell products… we were ready to go! This year, Gareth Jones also joined the Bushnell team and his experience with trail cams meant he was a great asset to our team!

Staying at Spanhoe Lodge nearby (thoroughly recommended!!) meant that we were easily able to get to the show each morning before the doors opened and I love this quiet time before the show. There is a last minute flurry of activity as stand holders prepare for the day ahead and a feeling of excitement as we prepare for the day’s visitors! 

P1060457 P1060455Simon King and I were also excited to announce that there will be a big new Bushnell competition launched in September for all you Bushnell Trail cam users out there! We will be announcing the details on our websites very soon. We will be looking for the best Bushnell video clips or stills, of British wildlife that you have captured. There will be some great prizes to be announced as the competition launches in September. Simon will be judging the adult category and I will be judging the under 18s category. I am very much looking forward to seeing some of the great captures :o)

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We had an absolutely wonderful show and it was truly lovely to meet so many enthusiastic wildlife people! I was especially pleased to meet lots of young naturalists, many who came to see me and show me some of their great blogs, websites, photography and trail cam clips! As you know, I am very keen to encourage the next generation in their wildlife pursuits and I always love hearing about what they are up to. There seem to be so  any more wonderful opportunities available to the youth of today and the Internet has meant that they are able to meet and network in a way that was never possible when I was a child.

The only problem being on a stand is that I was not really able to get out and visit many of the other great stands or listen to the talks which looked incredible this year. 

Thank you to the fantastic Bushnell team and to all the amazing people who came to see me and talk to me… it is what makes this show so special! Roll on BirdFair 2015…. I am already planning the stand… 

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Mike Dilger and I in the Bushnell Garden!

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Build your own Wildlife Water Feature Oasis!

When SwellUK contacted me and asked me if I would like to choose something from their website in return for a blog post, I leapt at the chance! Swell Aquatics have a website packed with just about everything you would need to create any kind of pond or water feature in your garden. You can check out their website by clicking HERE. I started to look through the website. I already have a pond and a small water feature I made out of old tyres up at one end of the garden. I wanted to create something at the patio  end of my garden. This space is not very big, totally paved with just a few small beds. I wanted to create something that would fit in a small space, would not need loads of excavation and be perfect for wildlife to drink and bathe in.

After some looking I came cross this feature pool; a preformed pool with a chamber in the bottom that a pump could fit in. I wanted a pump to keep the water clean and also so it would remain relatively ice-free in the winter, as the patio is pretty sheltered. I chose the smaller of the 2 pools.

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I asked advice as to which pump to use and Swell chose this one for me…

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This one has a UV bulb included, but I think a cheaper version would do ok as well, if you wanted something a little cheaper… like this….

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I did not want to sink this into the floor, as I felt in the enclosed space of my patio, the birds would be reluctant to come to the ground. I decided to use 2 old tyres to raise the pool off of the ground. If you visit a tyre centre, they are usually more than happy to give you old tyres for free! I have used them for pools before and planters… they are a great recyclable resource!

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I started by choosing a space near my fence, next to the lowest part of the trellis (for easy access) and lay the tyres down. I levelled them and made sure I was happy with the position. The pump is cabled, so I made sure the cable ran as far as my boiler house, where I have power.

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I had already checked the diameter… the pool sat nicely on these tyres …

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I removed the clover over the central reservoir and placed the pump down inside. It was too big to sit flat on the base, so I angled it slightly with the output pipe pointing upwards. I could not get the cover back on top, due to the angle of the pump, but I was not too worried as I know I was going to cover it with rocks etc. I started by trying a terracotta pot over the top with a hose attachment coming out of the hole in its base….

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I filled the bottom reservoir with water and turned the pump on. By placing a small stone mushroom on top, I attempted to get the water to flow down the sides of the pot….

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I was not happy with how it looked, so removed that and started playing around with bits of rock I had gathered from around the garden. I wanted it to look as  natural as possible, so chose some mossy rocks and pieces of slate and began to experiment with arranging them….

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I wanted the water to bubble over one rock and the rest of the space be filled with other rocks and some cobbles which I bought. I needed various shallow spaces for drinking and bathing…. it took me a while of experimenting before I got the look I had envisaged…

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I pulled a few little plants from the pond to soften some of the edges. It was now beginning to look how I wanted it to look. The next issue was the tyres. I wanted to cover them, so they were not visible. If I had built this up the other end of the garden, I would have piled rocks and soil all the way around to create a natural mound which I could have planted up. In this spot, this was not an option. I had some old hessian in my garage that I had reduced from a skip at school!!!… I wrapped this around and secured it with string…

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I also had some remnants of willow screening and I trimmed it so it was the same height as the tyres. Then I wrapped it all around and started to position some of my patio  pots around…

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With a couple of perches, bits of bark and some plants, it was really stating to look lovely! I fiddled around for a bit until I was happy with the final effect and how it blended perfectly in with the patio set up…

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With relatively little effort, I had created something that looked great in my garden, took up a small amount of space, yet I felt it would offer a great place for birds to drink and bathe throughout the year. I know I was lucky enough to have the pump and base given to me, but you could create this for under £100 and with very little effort needed. 

I did not have to wait long for it to be used. The very next morning, I was thrilled to see the robin taking full advantage of this great new spa! I set up the Bushnell trail cam with a close-up lens on and captured this footage of the robin having a bath and a magpie taking a drink! I just know that this is going to be great for wildlife and a superb, attractive addition to my garden patio area.

I hope you are inspired to have a go yourself and create a wildlife spa for your birds this summer!

 

 

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