A slightly belated happy new year to everyone reading this! I’ve returned safe and sound from my research expedition to the Isle of May over the winter, and I’ve more or less re-adjusted to ‘civilisation’ after two months of living on a little island off the Scottish coast with a bunch of seals (read more about our adventures and the research we do here). I had a fantastic time once again, it is my eighth season living and working on a seal colony and it honestly never gets old. I am working on processing all the photos from the trip, but there were plenty of reasons to take a ridiculous number of photos while I was there so it’s taking some time! My next update will hopefully include a detailed account of some of the seals, birds and behaviours I encountered while in the field along with all the best photos from the trip.
In the meantime:
I’ve posted some of my photos from the last few weeks here on the mainland, including frosty mornings with garden birds and seals and seabirds from a day survey back out to the Isle of May in January (link).
I’ve finally finished a long overdue review of Edinburgh Zoo, my ‘local’ zoo and a particular favourite of mine (link).
I’ve also completed the overhaul of the website’s structure and appearance, so things are running much smoother and hopefully everything is a lot easier to find now. If you do find any broken links, missing images or typos then do let me know.
In the coming months I also plan to write about my experiences with the Icelandic whale watching companies I was out with last year to see wild Orcas and I’ll be visiting Twycross Zoo soon, so there will be plenty of reviews and photos coming online along with all the seal related material I’ll be posting. I’ll keep putting notifications of updates to the site on my twitter feed (@KJRScience) so if you want to know when new things are online you can follow me there.
October means it’s time for me to head out to the Isle of May, an incredible island off the coast of Fife (Scotland) which is home to thousands of breeding seabirds and seals every year. The puffins may have gone but the seals are just starting to arrive and I’ll be here for the next eight weeks to study them as part of my job at the Sea Mammal Research Unit (for updates on the science happening on the island, check out out science blog here).
The colony is still growing at this time of year, and we have lots of pregnant female grey seals waiting to give birth on the shores of the island. The number of mother – pup pairs is growing daily, and we are out every day looking to identify study individuals from the seals that are on the island who have tags in their flippers to aid in picking them out among the crowds. Soon the seals will be everywhere on the island, especially as the pups wean from their mothers and start to explore the interior of the island, they even come up to check out the old lighthouse keeper’s house we stay in!
In other news, the website has been updated with a review for Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire here and I’ve uploaded a load of new pictures from my trip to Edinburgh zoo last weekend in the ‘Latest Photos’ section. Finally, I’ve given into peer pressure and joing twitter (@KJRScience if you would like to find me there), I’m still learning the ropes but everyone keeps telling me how wonderful it is so hopefully I’ll take to it!
Nine years. When you write that figure down, it seems like a very long time for a ‘hobby’ to be a feature of your life. For me, it doesn’t seem too far in the past when those few days that lead me into picking up a SLR camera happened. I can remember them very clearly; meeting with my undergraduate project supervisor at Durham University to talk about getting into marine mammal science and the skills it would be useful to have. A chat with one of my friends who took pictures on his Canon SLR, and his generous offer to lend me his gear for a term and give me a crash course in how to use it. The first afternoon after he left me with the SLR and a head full of, what sounded to me at the time, technical jargon (aperture? ISO? what?) and all the shots I took came out completely black. Setting up a bird feeder outside my college room window to draw birds close by so I could practise using the camera. Ultimately being enthusiastic enough about my new pastime to get my own camera gear, including my beloved Nikon D200. At the time, the D300 had just come out and there were many photographers trading up, so listening to the age old advice about investing in your lens more than the camera body, I ended up getting a second hand D200 to start my own gear collection. Thus began a nine year relationship which has spanned the globe and every weather condition imaginable. To me the D200 is a juggernaut, no matter what I threw at it, it kept going and kept giving me images I could be proud of.
Whether it feels like it to me or not, nine years is a long time for one item (no matter how amazing it is) to shape how you approach and execute an art form. So having been fortunate enough to upgrade my camera body to a D810 this year, I welcomed the change but was terrified by it at the same time. Did I have the abilities to use this new SLR to its full potential? Would the new images be that much better than the ones from the D200, making the investment worthwhile? Would it hold up in the same shooting conditions I was used to subjecting my D200 to, or would I be too afraid to expose it to the wilds? All questions that I have seen photographers ask when debating upgrading their camera gear, which is never an easy decision. But I told myself to stop worrying and just get out there and shoot with the thing, practise and familiarity would surely make me as comfortable with the D810 as I had been with the D200, and I could figure out all the special features given time.
Sadly, this was not quite the case! I went out on one shoot with the D810 and the entire day was an exercise in frustration (although that can partly be attributed to the exposure bar being inverted from what I’m used to on the D200, which I’ve now fixed). Shooting wildlife at dawn in the highlands, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with the results. My shots were dark, colour representation was poor and no matter what I tried, my images were not the crystal clear sharpness I was hoping the D810’s phenomenal sensor would produce. I knew I could do so much better if I just switched to the D200 that was lying in my camera bag beside me, but the adage that a poor workman blames his tools was certainly applicable here. Mulling over the shoot at home, I knew that the potential for me to be missing key knowledge about using SLRs was pretty high, as the only ‘formal’ training I’ve had in photography comes from three ‘tog afternoon sessions at bird of prey centres and two lessons from friends who are also interested in photography. So I went in search of a training course that could rectify this, and as luck would have it, the Nikon School in London had a course named ‘Getting started with D810/D800/D800E Part 1’ running the following month…
So a month on from that disaster shoot, I flew south with my camera bag as my only baggage, stuffed with all the gear I owned (sans D200) and a couple pairs of knickers to sustain me over the weekend. I freely admit that I am not a city person, and I can count the number of times I’ve been to London on one hand, so I rode the train into the city with a fair amount of trepidation. But I was only mildly traumatised riding the tube during rush hours and soon found myself stepping in the Nikon School building ready to learn (or at least get my massive bag of gear off my back). You can read a more detailed review of the day here on this site, but the take home message is I loved this course and am so relieved that I went for it despite the massive trip south I had to make.
The course not only greatly increased my knowledge of how to use the D810 camera, but my confidence in using it to produce amazing images. Surrounded by incredible photos on the walls of the school and people as enthusiastic as you about the intricacies of photography, it was hard not to feel inspired while there. I would love to go back for more if getting to the school wasn’t such an issue for me, hopefully in the New Year I will get the chance to return and increase my knowledge and venture outside my ‘wildlife photography’ comfort zone. One slight downside, seeing all the ace equipment they can lend you for the day has made me think about upgrade my lenses too, if only I could! The full frame sensor of the D810 means I should really get a full frame short lens to replace my Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8, and I would love a longer lens for shooting wildlife when I’m not on a boat. I’ve heard many good things about the Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 and getting to try it out at the course got rid of my concerns that it would be too heavy or large to handhold when shooting for a day. Better get saving I suppose, I’m hopefully going to be venturing to South East Asia to try and find some rainforest wildlife in 2017 so its tempting to try and get a lens upgrade of some sort before that trip… but we’ll have to wait and see.
After the course ended I hightailed it out of London to visit family for what was left of the weekend, and happily everyone was game for an afternoon at the Cotswold Wildlife Park despite some heavy rain, giving me the perfect chance to have a rematch with using the D810 out in the real world. The difference was night and day (you can see the best of the shots in the ‘Latest Photos’ section), the D810 this time round was a joy so I had a great time getting good snaps at the zoo and feeling excited about the upcoming field season I’ll be going on in the winter with the Scottish Grey Seals. The low light capabilities of the D810 are amazing, and the resolution of the photos is unbelievable, I could take images of a bird for example and even hand held, you can zoom in to see the filaments of individual feathers, all perfectly sharp!
I will still be taking my D200 with me into the field, it’s not let me down come rain, frost or sea salt so I cannot leave it behind while my D810 is currently untested in similar conditions. I also cannot bring myself to part with my D200, despite 9 years of shooting its only just halfway through its life (on 65K shutter actuations) so I see no reason to give up on this amazing camera. I’ve always been told its best to have a back up SLR body when out in the field, and I don’t think I could do better than my D200 which I know so well. And while we were at the restaurant of the Cotswold Wildlife Park I had a reminder of how good the D200 can be on the wall, as there was one of my photos from a few years ago of one of their pallas cats.
It is easy to fall either side of the debate in photography about improving the tools you have or the knowledge you have to use them, but the last month transitioning to the D810 has clearly shown me that it’s important to keep both in mind. Your gear, like it or not, will impact on your work but equally the best gear in the world will not give you amazing images, that’s down to your own knowledge and hard work.
I had to smile thinking to myself in that restaurant, if nine years with the D200 got one of my images on that wall, then where might my images be after nine years with the D810…?
After two years of neglect, I’ve finally injected some life into this website, and to start the process it’s been completely re-designed. Working out the kinks in the coding behind the scenes has freed up a lot of server space, so that means not only do we have a brand new look, but we have space to share many more photos on the site! All the old galleries have been re-formatted so it’s easier to find what you want, for example the ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Zoo’ photography is now completely separate, and both have tons of new shots in them. I’m also working on a grouping system so that it’s easy to find your favourite animal species in each of the pages. There has been room to make new galleries too, like the ‘Landscape’ and ‘Pet & Farm’ galleries, so you can see the amazing places I have visited (I’m no landscape photographer, but it’s hard to go wrong with some scenery!) and all the lovely, cheeky pets I’ve got to meet and photograph for my friends.
All this has come about for two reasons. Firstly, my post doctoral research was keeping me so busy I had very little time to get out and take shots like I used to, so my photography has been somewhat neglected for the last few years. This year however, my love for taking pictures was rekindled with an incredible trip to Iceland with my husband, and unsurprisingly I had the time of my life shooting the incredible scenery and wildlife on that amazing island (see more of the whales, birds, horses and landscape photos in the galleries). If you can’t get excited about photographing wildlife in amongst a super pod of wild orca then you may as well sell your camera gear! Secondly, I got to go on a training course at my university so that I could make an academic website and start blogging about my work in science (which is here if you are interested). It wasn’t really anything that I didn’t already know, but it got me back on wordpress and reminded me how easy it is to use, so it gave me the kick up the arse to come back to this website and invest some time in it.
Writing blogs on my science site has also inspired me to write more articles on this site about photography and the places I visit. I started writing about my photography adventures over on good old deviantart 6 years ago and have always had a lot of interest in the places I go and the techniques I use to get the best out of both captive settings in zoos and the frequently wet and wild places I shoot at on the coast. I’m going to start writing blogs about any experiences I have in the photography world, the little things I do to protect my gear and the tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to avoid disturbing the animals I’m shooting and to get the best results in what are often challenging conditions.
I’m also going to write some reviews from a photographer’s perspective of all the places I’ve visited to take photographs, ranging from zoos to the various wildlife tours I have been on worldwide, as I know these have been helpful to other people over on DA. Hopefully this means I will post an update twice a month, one mid month reviewing a place I’ve previously been to photograph animals and another at the end of the month discussing photography subjects. For example, I was very fortunate to be able to upgrade my camera after 9 wonderful years shooting with my beloved Nikon D200. My new Nikon will hopefully be everything and more that the D200 was, but to make sure I get the best of it I’m going to go on my first training course with the Nikon school in London this month, and I’ll use the ‘mid month’ blog for October to write about my experiences there (NEW: read the blog here or the review of the course here). My ‘end of month’ update for September, aside from this blog, will be a review and what better way to start than to review my favourite wildlife watching company, Ecoventures of Cromarty in Scotland! To read the review click here or just go to the ‘Reviews’ section of the top menu, look under ‘Wildlife Tour Reviews’ and choose ‘Ecoventures, Scotland’. If you click the ‘Wildlife Tour Reviews’ page itself, there will eventually be a list of the completed reviews divided by country and by animal species so that when I’ve written several, it’s still easy to find the review you’re interested in.
So hopefully there will be plenty to look out for on the site in the coming months, and fingers crossed years if I can keep it up! I have also fixed the coding linking this site to my facebook so any updates on this website are posted on my page there. All that remains is to say thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the new site. Summer may be over now, and with it the good light is vanishing here in the north for photographing wild beasties, but I still have some exciting opportunities to take pictures before the end of the year. I’ve just come back from a holiday in Ibiza and had a fantastic time photographing the endemic lizards (Ibiza Wall Lizard, Podarcis pityusensis) that live there, so beautiful and very approachable; they’ll even climb up your arm to sun themselves if you sit still enough! I will squeeze in a trip to the lovely Cotswold Wildlife Park while I’m in the south for Nikon school, hopefully to see one of my photos on display there along with their new lion cubs. Finally, I will be lucky enough to spend two months with the breeding grey seals on the Isle of May in Scotland as part of my work for the Sea Mammal Research Unit (for more details, go here). It will be my 7th field season with the Scottish seals and even though I’ve worked with these creatures for 8 years now, every trip brings new experiences and sights with the wildlife on these isolated islands. If 2 months shooting on the island doesn’t get me used to my new camera then I’m not sure what will! Hopefully I’ll have lots of new shots of the seals and birds to share over the last months of the year.
While it’s been a shamefully long time since my last update here, at least its not been a year since my previous post like last time! 2014 has turned into quite an eventful year for me, I passed my viva for my PhD at the University of St Andrews and had the privilege of going out to Sarasota in Florida to work with the Mote Marine Lab on the resident bottlenose dolphin’s in Sarasota Bay. I had a fantastic time and got to see so many amazing things, wild manatees for the first time and lots of ospreys, they are everywhere in Florida! Coming from the UK where they are so scarce, I was amazed whenever I saw one, and I got to see them fishing and a nest full of chicks on a ‘no wake’ sign!
Since I came back I’ve been busy with me post doctoral work and moving. So not many trips to the zoo for me this year, and as my PhD work has finished I didn’t get to go out to one of the grey seal breeding colonies this autumn, for the first time in 6 years! so that was very strange, I miss the colonies and seeing all the familiar mothers and their new pups very much. I’ve actually taken more photos of people this year, having photographed my first wedding for some friends and taking lots of shots of my rapidly growing nephew. Hopefully next year I’ll be back to taking lots of animal shots where I belong!
I’m hoping to get a trip to Edinburgh zoo in before the end of the year, but I’ve also put a bunch of my shots from the last three years up on the site under three new galleries, equines, pets and farmyard animals. I love photographing horses, one of the few things I did get to do this summer was pay a visit to the New Forest National Park in the south of England to photograph the ponies there, had an amazing time! I used to take lots of shots of suffolk punches when I lived in Suffolk too, they are an amazing heavy horse breed. In the ‘pets’ section, I’ve got plenty of photos of my own family’s dogs and some that belong to a friend. For some reason its full up of border collies so I should really try and get out and get some different dog breeds!
The only thing left to say is that if you like my photos and live in fife, I actually have some mounted prints going on sale in december! There is an arts fair at the St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum on North Street from the 29th November until the 7th December, and there looks like there are lots of lovely things from paintings to ceramics to come and see and buy. So if you like my photos and would like one to have in your home, stop by and have a look! If you can’t make it to the fair but would still like a mounted print of one of my shots, then just get in touch with me using my email on the ‘contact me’ part of the website and we can sort something out now I know how to get them made!
Happy holidays incase I don’t update before Christmas, but hopefully I’ll be back with an update before the new year!
Has it really been a year already? Time certainly flies when you’re finishing your PhD. In the last year I’ve managed to do all the analysis, write up and hand in my PhD thesis, and I will have my viva (the final examination I guess) this week! Am getting pretty nervous about it but it will all be over soon, and that particular chapter of my life will come to a close.
My thesis has left me few opertunities to get out and take photos since my Northumberland trip. I managed a grand total of three trips to zoos in the year, and didn’t get back to Edinburgh Zoo at all until recently. On the plus side I did get to spend another season out on the Isle of May surveying the grey seals while they breed which is always amazing. I also got to go to New Zealand for about two weeks in december, and I had the time of my life!
I went to New Zealand to present some of the findings from my PhD work, and the conference was held in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zeland. The place was absolutely stunning and luckily enough was right next to the Otagu Peninsula, which has all kinds of unusual, endemic and endangered wildlife on it. While I was there I got to see the world’s most endangered penguin and sea lion species, the yellow-eyed penguin and the New Zealand sea lion. The sea lions were huge! and they were hauled out on the beach, not bothered at all by people unless they foolishly got too close. The penguins were amazing too, got to see them swimming in the surf and coming up the beach to return to their nests in the sand dunes. While we were there we also got to visit an albatros breeding colony! I have always wanted to see albatros, and we managed to see birds on nests with eggs, birds doing their courtship dances and pairs flying in sync with each other, was incredible.
Once the conference was over I rented a car and headed north along the east coast of the south island. There were several wildlife hotspots I’ve been dying to see my entire life along the way and I couldn’t wait to get to them! The first stop was a place called Akora to see the endangered Hector’s Dolphin, a very small dolphin species only found in coastal New Zealand. The company we went out with (Akora Dolphins, http://akaroadolphins.co.nz/) were excellent, they knew lots about the local area and wildlife to tell everyone on the boat and we saw loads of Hector’s Dolphins, they even tried to bow ride for a while! They aren’t really built for speed though so they couldn’t keep it up for long. On that trip we also got to visit a New Zealand fur seal breeding colony that had lots of tiny pups on it, was great watching the colony from the water as the seals weren’t disturbed at all, they make the most incredible noises I’ve ever heard from a pinniped! If you get a chance to go to the south island and are in the Christchurch area, I would really recommend going to Akora, not only is the wildlife amazing but its a beautiful place in spectacular scenery.
All too soon we had to heard north again though, this time to Kaikora. Any one who is a whale watching enthusiast knows that Kaikora is one of the best places to see Sperm Whales relatively close to shore due to the presence of a massive, deep ocean trench not far from the shore there. Its also a great place to see Dusky Dolphins, which I’ve wanted to see since seeing documentaries about their acrobatic antics as a child. The weather conditions were not great, but we managed to get out and see a spectacular male Sperm Whale, he was called Tutu! All the males are resident in that area so the whale watch guides (http://www.whalewatch.co.nz/) can ID and tell you who is who while you’re out there. We did only get to see one whale, spotting and getting on them is really hard work and I felt for the staff on the boat, Sperm Whales are hardly very surface active and they stay under for such a long time, really makes the lives of the boat staff difficult! On that trip we also saw wandering and white-capped albatros too which was great.
The next day I was very keen to try and see some Dusky dolphins. We got up really early and went on a 5am trip out to try and see them, and it was well worth the early wake up call! We went out with a company called Dolphin Encounter (http://www.dolphinencounter.co.nz/) and on the boat you can either get geared up and try to swim with the dolphins, or stay on the boat and watch them (and take photos in my case!). I was very wary of a company that advertises swimming with dolphins, but once we were out there I was pleasently suprised. We were really far from shore in very deep water, and we were on the pod periphery. Any dolphins that swimmers were near were there because they’d chosen to swim over to check the people out, which a fair number did! I personally prefer watching and taking photos to swimming with dolphins, but if that sort of thing takes your fancy then this company have got the right idea for doing it without harassing the dolphins. We found a massive pod of several hundred dolphins and it was an incredible sight, at any one time there were always two or three dolphins in the air breaching or doing somersaults, was hard to know where to look! There were loads of calves around too which was great to see, and loads of the dolphins made a beeline for the boat to bow ride much to everyone’s delight. All too soon it was time to go home, but it was an amazing experience!
After that I was unfortunatly running out of time on the trip. I drove to the northmost point on the island to Picton and got a ferry to the north island and Wellington so I could go visit the Weta cave! I am a massive lord of the rings fan, and didn’t have time to go to any of the actual filiming locations on this trip, but the Weta cave more than made up for it! Then I got on a flight to Aukland, which was where my international flight back to the UK was departing from. I originally wanted to drive up through the north island too but I ran out of time! Ah well, hopefully I will get to come back one day. I had a spare day in Aukland so I went out one more time with a wildlife tour to try and see some Bryde’s whales, which I’ve never seen before! There is also always the chance of seeing orca while you’re out in NZ waters… but I was unlucky on both counts this time, and didn’t see any whales or orcas. We did find a huge feeding aggregation of gannets and common dolphins however, which was an amazing sight with all the diving birds and fast moving dolphins. So that was a lovely way to end my trip, before the horrible long flight back to the UK!
So I had an eventfull time in New Zeland and was extremely luck to go there and to see so many amazing things. The next stop for me after my viva this week is a trip to Sarasota in Florida to work with the Mote Marine Lab on bottlenose dolphins, which is VERY exciting! In the mean time I have some recent shots from the highland wildlife park and keilder bird of prey center to sort through and upload, so I’ll hopefully get them up before I leave (but definately before another year goes by!).
After two months of not getting out on any photoshoots, I’ve finally got some new shots to share from my fantastic Easter holiday in Northumberland with my family. I was so busy with PhD work in february and march I had no weekends free to go anywhere, not even Edinburgh zoo! So I was really happy to get out with my camera taking pics of my family, the dogs Tess and Colin the Border Collies and the wildlife in the area. I even had a go at some landscape shots! I’m considering adding a ‘Pets’ section to the website to put all my dog pictures into, will see how things go. In the meantime I’ve uploaded lots of seal, lamb and bird of prey shots from my time on holiday.
I’d not spent a lot of time in Northumberland before, the last time I was here was a short visit when I was in primary school, and it was great to explore a new region of the UK, the landscape is gorgeous! We went to Hadrian’s Wall, Bamburgh Castle, Kielder Water and one place I’ve not been to in five years, the Farne Isles! Some of my family are not too keen on boat rides so in the end it was only me and Rich who went on the trip. It was a sail around only, the breeding sea birds are not back in huge numbers so we didn’t think it was worth landing on the islands. We did see some puffins flying around, and a black guillimot! Which are rare in this area so that was neat to see. We also saw thousands of grey seals, which I of course loved! They are all there to moult at the moment so are looking very scruffy but it was still ace to see so many of them, even saw some tagged beasties from the Isle of May!
We went out with an organisation called ‘Serenity’ Farne Isles Boat Trips, and they were fantastic! They had a beautiful boat and the skipper and wildlife tour guide were both lovely and really knowledgeable about the islands and all the wildlife in the area. I had a great time, but I couldn’t understand why they had so few people on their boat compared to the other tour operator going from the Seahouses harbour, who’s boat was rammed. Don’t get me wrong, for us as customers it was great to have so much room on the boat (there were only 8 people on that trip) and so many opertunities to talk to the guide one on one, but I felt bad for them, I hope its not what happens all the time. It may be because when you type ‘Farne Isles boat trips’ into google search the other tour comes out as the top search result, and while the blog for the Serenity trips is at the bottom of the first page of search results, their actual web page with the trip info on it is harder to find. Whatever the reason, they are fantastic and if you’re planning a trip out to the Farne Isles I strongly recommend them! I’ve added their site to the list on my ‘links’ page but I’ll put it here too;
The other place that I really want to talk about is the Kielder Water Bird of Prey Center, which we found on our visit to (no suprise) Kielder Water. This is a fantastic, well designed center with one of the most varied collections of birds of prey I’ve ever seen and one of the best displays (sorry Kielder, I can’t ignore the awesomeness of Banham zoo’s flying display!). It was really windy but the display area is designed so they can still fly some of the owls in a part sheltered by the mews, but also fly the bigger birds in an open area the seating part looks over. I’m not explaining it very well, but it was a great take on a display area I’d not seen before, and despite the wind they flew three owls (barn, ural and european eagle), a black kite and a white tailed sea eagle! I was so excited to see this incredible bird in their mews, and to see them fly her too, was incredible! I’ve seen sea eagles in the wild on both the west and east coasts of Scotland but to see one close up, was amazing. The display was great too, got lots of the audience involved in flying to the glove and throwing bits for the Kite to catch, I was even asked to have some chicken put on my hat for the Kite to snatch off mid flight. Was great fun, yes the kite did steal my hat and then flew off with it for a while but she brought it back eventually, was great! So yeah, if you are in the area and like birds of prey definatly check out this place you won’t be disappointed.
Now its back to Scotland and back to work on the thesis. I have no idea when I’ll next get out to take more photos, maybe will get to go see the moray firth dolphins in may or visit one of the southern zoos (banham/colchester/twycross) then, but it’ll depend on how much work I’ve done, and how much I still have to do!
Last weekend I visited my boyfriend and his family in England. We were in the Birmingham area and had some time to kill so decided to go to the West Midlands Safari Park. I’ve not been to a big drive-through park before so was keen to see how it works, and I was lucky that I had Rich with me so he could drive and I could try and get some photos! There was snow everywhere which made some of the enclosures pretty amusing, as they specialise in afrcian and asian species. The animals that were out seemed to be having fun with it though, the african elephants were making snowballs and eating them! Was pretty funny to watch. It was great to have all the herbivore species so close and interacting with you too, you can buy food to feed them out of the car windows, and even though we had no food they all come up to see if you have any. Was great to see so many antelope species in such big herds, there was addax, eland, nilgai, gaur… the list goes on. They also have two big prides of african lions. Actual prides of more than ten animals! I always think its kind of sad to see lions in captivity in small groups of rarely more than five, so to see these two big groups was great. All in all we had a lot of fun driving around the park and seeing some ace species, and I went off happy but with a few misgivings about the awful sea lion show we saw at the end of the trip…
I know that I’m a tougher person to please when it comes to animal displays, but I have enjoyed all the ‘shows’ I’ve seen in other zoos around the UK and while obviously some are better than others, all of them really tried to educate their audiences about the animals they were showing. Unfortunatly that was really not the case for this show, it was two thirds through the show before they told you what species of sea lion they had! Let alone where they live, what conservation issues they might be facing etc. They also were pretty focused on getting the animal to do tricks for the sake of entertainment, rather than show off natural behaviours of the species. Throwing hoops over the sea lions head? What relevence does that have to anything! Towards the very end it got a bit better and they explained the ways to tell seals from sea lions, but they could make it so much better! Like at one point they got the sea lion to jump out the water several times, and said ‘this is porpoising, which is a natural behaviour!’ Ok thats fine but… why not explain why they do it or how it helps them survive? Perhaps I’m being pedantic, all the kids obviously loved the show as there was a lot of jumping out of the water to hit targets and sea lions are cool charismatic creatures. But I’ve never before been to an animal display in the UK and felt so uncomfortable. And as it turns out… perhaps I was right to be concerned.
I was looking for some information about the individual animals at the park to put in the captions of the shots today and I came across some upsetting information. The Park has recently been reprimanded by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums for selling four white lion cubs to an organisation that trains animals for the entertainment industry, which then sold the lions to a circus in Japan. I’m not even going to go into how questionable breeding white lions is, in brief (like the problems with white tigers) it is not recommended because to get the white genes to turn up the animals must be inbred, and the resources spent keeping white lions could be better used on an endangered species. Despite this, the park bred them, infact over three years (2006-2009) their three white lionesses produced 22 cubs! The park then had a surplus of male cubs they could not house, as the females can remain in the pride but the males cannot. I understand that the cubs had to go somewhere, but to sell them to the entertainment industry!? Its shocking beyond belief, and who knows what has happened to the other male cubs they bred… Those poor lions in Japan, one of them has already been retired to a Japanese zoo because he became so stressed his mane fell out.
So that has taken the shine off my visit somewhat… its very disappointing. I really would not have thought things like this were still happening in UK zoos, and the park can claim that ‘they had no idea the lions would end up in a circus’ but they knew that they would be used for films and TV adverts… it’s just unbelieveable =(
Yesterday I finally made it to Edinburgh Zoo while it was snowing, I’ve been trying to do this for years but since I move to Scotland we’ve either had no snow or so much that the zoo’s been closed. So me and two friends braved the icy temperatures and headed south for the day to try and actually see penguins in the snow without going to the antarctic!
Unfortunatly there was no snow left in the penguin enclosure(s), and where they have them currently is quite sad looking in truth because all the penguins are in various temporary enclosures while their main pool gets a make over. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before they are back where they belong. The meercats also looked very out of place in the snow, poor shivering things! But they seemed to want to be outside in the cold digging around in the snow, they did have access to their indoor house but there was even one up on sentry duty freezing his tail off, silly meercat.
Did get to see the amur leopards playing in the snow which was amazing, Zane especially was very active running, jumping and rolling around in the snow. The Jaguars Mowgli and Rica didn’t seem quite so impressed though! Was also very happy to see Tibor and Baginda (the Sumatran Tigers) in the same enclosure at last, hopefully the pitter patter of tiger cub paws won’t be too far away… And was amazed to see a sign for a Clouded Leopard on the big cat walk! I have never seen one of these cats before so can’t wait to see this new arrival.
All in all it was a good trip, although my camera lens continues to play up and there was next to no light to use to shoot in. It was really cloudy so no high shutter speeds were possible, a shame with all the antics Zane was doing. Never mind, hopefully the snow will stay around until my next trip in February and mabye then the sun will be out!
Next trip: either Ed. zoo again in February or perhaps wild capercaillies if I’m really lucky…?
I hope everyone had a great holiday and a happy new year. I had a great time with all my loved ones, and I managed to get out on some photo trips while I was in England at the southern zoos like Banham and Cotswold Wildlife Park.I also got out to the Isle of May to help on the grey seal research surveys that happen every year, it was only for a weekend but I was so happy to be there with the seals!
Now I’m facing the last 7 months of my PhD which may cut into my photography time… but hopefully I will still be able to get out now and again to take some shots to share with everyone. Watch this space! In the meantime take a look around the galleries and if you see any spelling mistakes let me know in the comments at the bottom of each page (or comment if you just want to say hi!), I’m terrible at spelling so I’d appreciate it! >.<