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