This shot of two baby rats peering out from their den, which happens to be the edge of our garden pond marks one of the high points of months of photographing wildlife in our garden. It's been a great learning experience, and has enabled me to hone some of my photographic skills.
This was shot using a remote camera trap, again which was a learning experience in terms of set up and use, but its been worth it.
A (modest) host of wildlife on tap?
As I write this, we have varied selection of wildlife that visits or lives in our modest suburban garden. We have houses to the left and right of us, and to the rear. We live in a quiet culdesac that is made up of bungalows in an older part of town.
Over the past few weeks & months & even years we have seen: (* denotes where they have either nested and reared young, or fed young in the garden)
Sparrow, starling*, wood pigeon*, feral pigeon, collared dove, great tit, blue tit*, long tailed tit, dunnock, robin*, blackbird*, European goldfinch, wren, sparrow hawk, red kite (okay it flew low over the garden a couple of times, but I'm counting it!), raven, jackdaw, mallard duck (yes, seriously!)
Hedgehog, wild rat*, mouse, rabbit, grey squirrel
You may wonder what we have in the garden that attracts so much wildlife, as not everyone is so fortunate to have such a vast array of wild visitors.
Well we have:
- 2 x bird feeding stations
- A (small) pond
- A composter
- A vegetable patch
- A wild corner of the garden behind the pond
So being blessed with this abundance of suburban wildlife, it'd be a tragic waste not to use it to hone some photography skills no?
Well, that's what I've been doing, and I have to admit that most creatures who visit the garden are getting used to various bits of camera gear and remote camera traps appearing in various locations, and I've been able to get some great shots.
Of course I have some less than great shots too, but what is has enabled me to do is try things out from the comfort of home so when I get 'out in the field' I am better prepared. So how did we come to have so much wildlife in the garden? Let me explain...
Some years ago when my partner and I moved into our new home I noticed that we had quite a few birds visiting the garden. The fact that the house we had just brought had a small garden pond helped attract birds too.
We noticed wood pigeons and sparrows. Nothing out of this world but given we had just moved from a flat, it was a novelty to see birds visiting the garden.
On top of that, during our first few months here we noticed a couple of wild rabbits visiting the garden. This was nice until they started to dig up the lawn. After a couple of weeks they visited no more and we don't know what became of them.
I think it was back then we worked out that despite being on the edge of suburbia, this garden was a bit special.
Part of me wanted to see more of the few birds that could be seen visiting the garden, so we got a bird table on which we put food in order to encourage the birds to stay longer.
Looking back to that time, the garden was incredibly sterile, with not much going on besides the lawn and hedges.
I have to admit to being quite excited when the table had its first visitor; a common wood pigeon who looked incredibly uncomfortable on the table given its size, but it was a start.
A few days later I added some bird feeders to hang under the table in order to attract different type of birds.
Fast forward a few months and a large standalone bird feeder station had been added.
Now with the bird table and feeding station positioned near our pond, and quite close to the hedge that ran down the back of the garden, there was definitely more activity.
If I recall it was around this time that when we were digging out the composter that we found a small vole. It was initially shocked at being disturbed, but after it had calmed down, we let it go.
Apart from bird seeds we also put out a feeder with peanuts.
This didn't attract any birds, but did attract a grey squirrel who worked out how to undo the feeder and help itself to all the nuts.
Over the next few weeks it seemed to cost me a fortune in peanuts, but it was worth it in seeing the antics of this solitary squirrel trying to undo the feeder. It was almost as if it seemed to delight in having me watch it while it unscrewed the feeder in order to get to the nuts.
Over time we have added more feeders for the birds, changing the choice of seed that is on offer in order to attract different birds. It seems to work.
But then we had a bit of a surprise one morning when opening the bedroom curtains and looking out on the pond... the ducks had arrived...!
Yes, seriously, there were a pair of mallard ducks in the pond; a male and female.
We thought this might be a temporary thing, but they kept on returning for the next few days, and we thought we might become hosts to some baby ducks, but after a week, the pair left for good.
On the upside, they did clear a lot of bloodworms out of the pond.
There's a rat in the garden, what we going to do...?
It was also around this time we noticed a new visitor to the garden in the shape of a wild rat. This fellow would go on to be a bit of a legacy for the garden, when he wasn't trying to get into the roof of the house!
Fast forward to present day, and the photo at the top of this page probably came about because of him. More on this in part 2.
Photographing it all
Now with so much activity in the garden, this presented a prime opportunity to try out various photographic techniques, as well as document some of the activity by the garden visitors.
For those days when I couldn't get out to photograph anything, the garden was the fall back place to try things out, and with so much variety, I'd be silly to miss up such an opportunity.
This would take the form of remote camera trapping, and taking photos from the house too. Partly inspired by Richard Peters' book, 'Back Garden Safari' I set about making a plan.
Over the past months I have started to set up the garden to make the most of taking photographs of birds and animals, and where possible doing it in such a way that I can take photographs from the house thereby not disturb anything that is visiting the garden. We want it to return after all.
But more on this in part 2...