During the day we walked up Ladder Hills to find, stalk and photograph mountain hare. As a group of 10 the stalking was a difficult task, but most people managed to get some images. One of the biggest challenges when we started was the rain. We were facing up the slope and the rain was driving down towards us, this meant frequently having water on the front element if you weren't careful.
The image below is by Isabelle Price (www.isabellepricephotography.weebly.com). The changing around of who was at the front of the group changed often and at the time that we were around 15 metres from this hare, Isabelle was at the front and managed to capture this image!
After this stalk, we had some time to split off and find subjects of our own if we wanted to. Myself, Anthony, Toby and Ellie separated from the group and walked straight up the hill. Seeing as the hill had small plateaus, we thought that we would approach the edge of the plateau, slowly look over the brow and hopefully there would be some mountain hare. We tried several times, but with the amount of hares that were around (and to our eyes, unnoticeable) we kept startling a hidden hare which in turn would cause most to run off. We gave up facing uphill and still had about an hour left so headed back down towards the cabin. On the way down we were very lucky to find a hare which wasn't too scared of us getting near.
After we spotted it, got low down and waited, it started to feed. Each time it put it's head down to feed we could move a metre or so forward, we kept this same technique until about 10 metres away from the hare. I captured this image as it looked up from feeding.
A slight change of position down the slope and I took this second image. The low angle of the first image makes it my favourite of the two; the blurring of the foreground and background help to bring focus onto the subject, I would also say that the head position is much nicer as it's looking towards us.
The other three got some fantastic images as we carried on stalking for a while, but they aren't edited yet, but they may make it into the final 'gallery' blog in a week or so!
After Ladder Hills we headed home and prepared for the night in the black grouse hide. You are given a sleeping bag, roll mat, pillow and obviously the hide (which is set up by David Newland ). You just need to take your camera equipment and a lot of layers. I obviously can't say where the hide is located, but it is at the foot of mountain and (if you get a bad night) is very open to the elements. Myself and Anthony were very lucky in that when we set-up it was very windy, but after a couple of hours had passed the wind had died down and we managed to get more sleep than on most of the other nights this week!
The hide is in such a nice location, obviously it needs to be next to a lekking site, but the dark skies at night were stunning. I woke up at around 04:30 to check that the equipment was all ready to go and see whether the grouse had already arrived. I have no idea what time the grouse came down because they were already there by the time I was awake. I knew that I wouldn't be able to capture any images in that light and so I went back to sleep until 05:30. We were entering the blue hour and the sky was looking like there would a great sunrise, but still I couldn't get any images. I set up the stool, tripod and camera, sat behind the camera and watched the grouse and listened to the birds flying around overhead. Another great part of staying in the hide that I forgot to mention was that when you first get in (prepared the groundsheet, sleeping bag and made sure nothing is going to get wet overnight) and first wake up in the morning, you can lay back and hear the grouse, lapwing, snipe, curlew and oystercatches calling and probably a lot more that I couldn't recognise.
Anyway, I decided not to shoot at too high an ISO and instead just watch the lek until the light was good enough to capture some images. I was shooting on a D810, which I don't like to shoot over ISO2000 with - I know that it'll do more but I don't like the quality and although the image is usable it is always on my mind that the quality isn't of that high a standard. So I set my camera to ISO2000, F/2.8, 1/100th of a second and waited for the light to reach that level. At around half 6 the light was looking very nice and I was shooting from then until when we picked up at about quarter past 8.
The difficulty with photographing the black grouse is the amount of rushes and tall grasses around them - a lot of the time they are concealed. After shooting some portraits of one grouse which spent a lot of time near the hides, I moved on to trying to capture the males fighting. They weren't particularly active on that morning but there were quite a few opportunities. If I was shooting them in landscape orientation then (due to the distance and focal length) I would be cropping a lot and because of the high ISO value I didn't want to deteriorate the quality of the final image too much. Therefore I decided to shoot portrait and try to include the fields and mountains in the background. This image below was my favourite frame, as it looks like one has kicked the other to ground. Looking at it now I would have liked to use a smaller aperture to show more background, as I was only on F/4. Yet I needed the larger aperture because the action happens very quickly and I wanted to try and freeze it as much as I could. As the morning went on I did go to F/8 but I didn't get that kind of action again.
Closer action is what I really wanted, but it wasn't very likely which is why I went for the format you can see above. However a few minutes before we were picked up the grouse all flew off and left just one on its own. It started to call and was jumping around (I imagine to attract the attention of any other grouse that were left - although there weren't any). It did this a couple of times and allowed me to capture this image. Two males would have been more impactful but it was nice to have an image with some action in it.
Once again, if you are interested in any image that you have seen on the blog then feel free to get in contact with me and I can point you in the direction of the photographer. Also, here's the list of photographers who have online portfolios/galleries that you can browse.
Isabelle Price - www.isabellepricephotography.weebly.com
Anthony Slocombe - www.anthonyslocombephotography.weebly.com
Richard Winter-Alsop - www.rjwaphotography.co.uk
Gail Forest Harland - www.gailforestharland.com
Ellie Bearcroft - www.ebphotography95.wix.com
Jasmine Beveridge - www.jbeveridgewildlife.weebly.com
Thanks to everybody who has been reading, we had a fantastic trip and it was made so much better to see you all reading and enjoying our photography!